Disgraced former municipal police chief Heng Pov was sentenced in absentia Monday to 18 years in prison for ordering the 2003 murder of Municipal Court Judge Sok Sethamony.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court also handed down 16-year sentences to five other police officers implicated in the killing: Hang Vuthy, who police say is at large, Ly Rasy, Prum Sophearith, Hang Vutha and Oum Samkheng.
Convicted in absentia, Heng Pov and Hang Vuthy will begin their sentences the day they are arrested, judge Kim Ravy said.
Authorities announced a warrant for Heng Pov’s arrest July 31 for his role in the killing, as well as three other attempted murders. Ly Rasy was charged over the killing in January while the other four defendants were charged in February.
Kim Ravy ordered the six to also pay $300,000 in compensation to the late judge’s widow. However, the judge said the funds could come from money seized from Heng Pov.
David Chen, an Australian lawyer acting for Heng Pov, did not respond to requests for comment, though Chen and Heng Pov have previously denied all charges.
Heng Pov left Cambodia in July and is now seeking political asylum.
Sok Sethamony, 42, was shot dead by gunmen in April 2003 as he waited at a traffic light on Phnom Penh’s Sihanouk Boulevard.
Hang Vutha drove the motorbike from which Oum Samkheng shot the judge, Kim Ravy told the court. Hang Vuthy and Prum Sophearith followed on a different motorbike, he said.
“Oum Samkheng shot Judge Sok Sethamony with five bullets and Hang Vuthy gave Oum Samkheng $1,200,” Kim Ravy said. “The crime was committed on orders from Ly Rasy and Heng Pov.”
During the four-hour trial, Prum Sophearith and Hang Vutha denied the charges but refused to answer questions. They rejected court appointed council as they said they had not been able to speak to their attorneys prior to the hearing.
Lawyer Long Dara, who represented Ly Rasy and Oum Samkheng, and lawyer Ty Vanndeth, who represented Heng Pov, both denied the charges against their clients.
“There isn’t a single piece of evidence,” Ty Vanndeth said.
Evidence introduced at trial included sworn statements from Rural Development Minister Lu Laysreng, who said he heard the judge receive a death threat, and Phok Manny, a Justice Ministry undersecretary of state, who said the victim had asked for a judge to investigate Heng Pov.
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)