Former Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and his wife, Ieng Thirith, the regime’s minister of social action, say they do not have enough money to pay for lawyers to defend them at the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia will cover the couple’s legal defense fees until their claim of indigence can be assessed, the court said in a statement issued Tuesday.
Many observers have asserted that the Ieng family is rich.
Ieng Sary and his wife live in a large, three-story house in a well-heeled neighborhood of Phnom Penh and they are understood to have a residence in Bangkok. Their children own property and hold prominent positions in Pailin municipality.
During the 1980s, Ieng Sary was the main conduit for Chinese financial aid to the Khmer Rouge and he was also the point man on the communist movement’s logging and gem-mining operations in rebel controlled areas on the Thai-Cambodia border.
Rupert Skilbeck, the principal defender at the ECCC, said Tuesday that his office is currently evaluating whether the couple’s assets can cover up to two years of defense counsel fees, which could total more than $500,000.
Assets belonging to other family members will not be considered, he added.
Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith were arrested Monday and are currently being held in police custody at the ECCC pending a hearing, scheduled for Wednesday, on whether they should be officially detained.
On Tuesday, both Ieng Sary, 82, and Ieng Thirith, about 75, underwent medical exams at Calmette Hospital, according to a separate Tuesday statement from the court’s co-investigating judges.
The couple’s attorneys, who were appointed Monday, requested that the hearing, which was meant to take place the day of the arrests, be delayed to give them time to prepare an adequate defense, according to the judges’ statement.
“I don’t have enough time,” Ieng Sary’s attorney Ang Udom said. “You should have time to prepare the case. What can we do if we know nothing about the case?” he added.
Ang Udom declined to comment on whether he would appeal any decision to detain Ieng Sary, who has been charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes, and said he did not want to comment on how his client’s 1996 pardon might affect his prosecution before the ECCC.
“Let me study the case a little bit,” he said.
The question of lawyer preparedness has also been an issue with Nuon Chea, the most senior surviving member of the Khmer Rouge, who was arrested Sept 19 on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Nuon Chea’s detention hearing took place the same day as his arrest—without a lawyer present, Skilbeck said.
On Monday, Nuon Chea’s attorneys filed an appeal against his detention, said his Cambodian lawyer, Son Arun.
“He wants to get out and his family wants him to get out,” Son Arun said Tuesday.
Skilbeck said the legal grounds for the appeal were rooted in the fact that his attorneys did not have adequate time to prepare for the detention hearing. The details of the appeal have not yet been made public.
Phat Pouv Seang, who is representing Ieng Thirith, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. He was barred from entering the home of Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith during Monday morning’s police search.
Skilbeck said he was not sure whether this was a violation of Cambodian law.
“It’s something we’re looking into, depending on the results of the search,” Skilbeck said.
Phat Pouv Seang has been a professor at the Royal University of Law and Economics since 1986, and has worked as a lawyer since 1997, according to the ECCC’s Defense Support Section.
He has been a legal consultant to the National Assembly Commission on Legislation and Justice since 2004, according to the defense section.
Ieng Thirith, who has been charged with crimes against humanity, also selected British attorney Diana Ellis to represent her, according to the defense office.
Ellis became a member of the Bar of England and Wales in 1978, and in 2001 was appointed Queen’s Counsel, the highest distinction a British attorney can attain.
She represented defendant Ferdinand Nahimana at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the first trial at an international tribunal to deal with the role of the media in perpetrating genocide, according to the defense section statement.
Ieng Sary’s Cambodian attorney, Ang Udom, worked as a criminal defense lawyer for the Cambodian Defender’s Project and Legal Aid of Cambodia from 1994 to 1997.
He has run his own law firm since 1999 and in 1996 was appointed head of the Center for Social Development’s legal unit. He said he will resign from the CSD in order to devote himself to Ieng Sary’s defense.
Ieng Sary has shortlisted two foreign attorneys to act as co-counsel and a final selection is expected this week, according to the tribunal’s defense office.
Meanwhile, the contentious work of establishing a definitive factual record has begun.
Cambodians historically have not been sticklers for recording dates of birth, and Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith appear to be no exception.
In their Tuesday statement, the ECCC’s co-investigating judges said Ieng Sary was born on October 24, 1925 in Loeung Va village in Vietnam’s Travinh district, in the part of southern Vietnam Cambodians call Kampuchea Krom.
However, Ieng Sary’s service passport from China, issued in 1979, says he was born on January 1, 1930 in Beijing.
A Cambodian diplomatic passport, issued in December 1996, also says Ieng Sary was born on January 1, 1930, but in Cambodia’s Prey Veng province.
“The question is when is he telling the truth,” DC-Cam Director Youk Chhang said.
According to the co-investigating judges Ieng Thirith, alias Phea, was born in 1932 in Battambang province.
As for her exact date of birth, Youk Chhang said, “Nobody knows for sure.”
(Additional reporting by Yun Samean.)