Five police officers accused of taking bribes from people under threat of false arrest were charged last week in Battambang provincial court, officials said Tuesday.
The extortion charges stem from a court complaint filed by a human rights organization in September alleging that officers in the province’s anti-drug trafficking unit had arrested at least two people without reason and threatened them with charges if they did not pay a bribe.
The officers reportedly collected some $2,300 in those two incidents, in June and September. A woman and, later, a man in Battambang told the rights group that the officers extorted about $600 and $1,700 in separate cases.
Prosecutor Yam Yet said the officers—Sok Yim, Soy Bunthoeun, Sok Bara and two others identified as Nal and Run—were charged with extortion after his preliminary investigation.
Last week’s charges allow a provincial judge to open an investigation. The officers deny the allegations, Yam Yet said. And as the court does not have any hard evidence, the officers are not being detained and are still working as provincial police, he added. “It’s hard to tell who is right or wrong until we have an investigation.”
Meanwhile, staff at Adhoc, the human rights group that first reported the allegations, said Tuesday that more complaints of the officers’ practices have surfaced since late September.
Four more people alleged the same officers had threatened them with bogus arrests and drug charges and then took their money, said Meng Ly, Adhoc provincial director. “They say they were arrested by those same officers and told they would go to court if they didn’t pay,” Meng Ly said. The four new complaints will also be sent to the court, in addition to the charges now pending against the officers, he said.
Extortion is punishable by five years to life in prison.