Rejecting a request from the justice minister, Prime Minister Hun Sen in September declined to intervene in a pending corruption case against a cousin accused of bribing a government inspector.
In a Sept 9 letter to Mr Hun Sen, Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana apparently asked the premier to permit the case against Dy Proem, a businesswoman in a long-running land dispute in Phnom Penh’s Dangkao district, to be dropped.
Ms Proem, a first cousin of Mr Hun Sen on his mother’s side, was tried on Sept 22 over allegations she arranged for $30,000 to be paid to Seng Yean, the former deputy director general of inspection at the Ministry of National Assembly-Senate Relations and Inspection.
The payment was allegedly made to influence Mr Yean’s investigation in favor of 120 village families in Kakab commune who claim to own land also claimed by Huot Sarom, a local landowner.
Mr Yean, who was charged with allegedly accepting the bribe, was also tried Sept 22, but a verdict has not yet been announced for either suspect.
Following a government inquiry, Mr Hun Sen had in July last year fired Mr Yean and ordered that prosecutors take action against him.
But in a letter to Mr Hun Sen on Sept 9, two weeks before trial, Mr Vong Vathana requested that the premier intervene in Ms Proem’s favor.
“By the claim from 120 villagers and herself, Dy Proem has merely worked to find justice for them in solving a land dispute with Huot Sarom,” the letter said.
“So if she were charged and convicted of giving a bribe, then those families of villagers should have been involved too. Therefore, please Samdech Prime Minister, decide in humanitarian terms.”
Mr Hun Sen apparently replied to the letter on Sept 13 by returning the original copy with a handwritten note penned in the margin of the page.
“Because this is the case in the hands of the court relating to an official at the Ministry of National Assembly-Senate Relations and Inspection…Dy Proem is in the package of this case file. Therefore, let the court continue the proceeding,” Mr Hun Sen wrote.
“If the court finds out that Dy Proem has no guilt, let the court drop the charge against her.”
A representative of the premier said yesterday that Mr Hun Sen frequently rejects requests to intervene in court cases. However, it was unclear whether the letter represented established communications on court cases within the executive branch or an expectation among government officials that the premier may intervene in judicial affairs.
The Council of Ministers in November last year denied that it had intervened in the case of former Military Police Deputy Chief of Staff Chea Ratha, whose initial acquittal on acid attack charges drew outrage from police.
Prior to trial, Ms Ratha’s lawyers wrote to Cabinet Minister Sok An to drop the charges. The fugitive was acquitted in absentia but convicted on appeal.
In a September report, UN human rights envoy Surya Subedi said the constitutional separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary was “blurred” and that the courts’ independence was compromised.
Mr Vong Vathana and Ms Proem could not be reached this week, while Ms Proem’s lawyer Khieu Sophal declined to comment.
The justice minister’s deputy Cabinet chief Bunyay Narin, however, confirmed that he had previously seen a copy of the letter but could not remember its exact content.
He said he believed the letter had been drafted by someone else within the Justice Ministry before being signed by the minister.
“That document is not kept at the Cabinet. Someone else wrote it and keeps it,” Mr Narin said Wednesday.
Kao Ty, the lawyer representing Ms Sarom, the landowner locked in the land dispute with the 120 families, said on Wednesday that he had made a copy of the letter after finding it in Ms Proem’s bribery case file.
“This letter is 100 percent real because it is classified in the case file. I directly copied this original document,” Mr Ty said.
Prak Sokhon, chief of Peam Koh Sna commune in Kompong Cham province where Ms Proem grew up, confirmed on Wednesday that the bribery suspect was a cousin of Mr Hun Sen.
“Yes, she is a cousin of Samdech. Her father and Samdech’s mother are siblings,” Mr Sokhon said.
Lim Leang Se, deputy chief of the prime minister’s Cabinet, said yesterday that the premier often received requests for him to intervene in court cases but did not say whether such requests were usually made by government officials, rights groups or members of the public.
“There are rather a lot of complaints. But, for anything relating to the court, he never gets involved because of his concern for the courts’ independence,” Mr Leang Se said.
Ms Proem sent a letter directly to Mr Hun Sen one month prior to Mr Vong Vathana’s intervention, Mr Leang Se confirmed. He said he had redirected the letter, dated Aug 9, to Mr Vong Vathana’s office.
“This case is related to the Ministry of Justice to decide, so we forwarded on the document,” he said, adding that Mr Hun Sen had never been shown Ms Proem’s original request for assistance.
Asked why Mr Hun Sen had not intervened in the case involving his cousin after receiving Mr Vong Vathana’s request, Mr Leang Se said he believed the premier did not want to interfere in court matters.
Mr Hun Sen said did not intervene “because this case is in the court. Let the court decide,” he said.