Inquiry Continues Into Inmate’s Release in R’kiri

Ratanakkiri Provincial Prison director Ngin Nel made a “huge mistake” by allowing convicted former provincial police chief Yoeung Baloung to leave prison to attend an ethnic festival last Sat­urday, provincial court president Judge Lou Sou Sambath said yesterday.

Mr Baloung, currently serving 13 years in jail for his part in an illegal logging scandal, was involved in a traffic accident in Ratanakkiri’s O’Chum district just hours after being granted an unauthorized leave of absence by the prison.

Three men had their legs broken and are receiving care in a Viet­namese hospital after a pick-up re­portedly carrying Mr Baloung crashed into their motorbike on National Road 78 on Saturday night.

Provincial and national investigations into the unauthorized release con­tinued yesterday, as prison de­partment officials from Phnom Penh arrived in Ratanakkiri to interview those involved in the incident.

Judge Sambath said provincial court officials investigating the case had told him Mr Baloung was “drunk-driving” when he crashed his car into the motorbike.

“The prison director has made a huge mistake by letting this inmate, who has been convicted of a crime, to stay outside prison and crash his car into others while drunk-driving,” Judge Sambath said.

He referred further questions to deputy court prosecutor Ros Saram, who declined to comment on the court’s investigation of the case. Mr Saram said on Tuesday that Mr Nel had confirmed he let Mr Baloung leave prison to attend a Kreung ethnic festival on Saturday without seeking the court’s permission.

Mr Nel could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Liv Mauv, deputy director-general of the general department of prisons, said officials from his de­partment had not yet concluded their investigation.

Provincial police chief Ray Rai yesterday continued to defend a police report that stated that Mr Baloung’s nephew Katroeng Lounh, 33, was driving the pick-up with Mr Baloung as a passenger at the time of the accident.

“The driver’s name was really similar to [Mr Baloung]. That was why onlookers and others were confused,” Mr Rai said.

But Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for human rights group Ad­hoc, rejected the police claims, saying “the driver who was drunk-driving and hitting [the motorbike] was Mr Baloung, not his…nephew.”

Mr Bonnar said he believed provincial officials were attempting to cover up information in their reporting of the incident.

Sok Vuthy, the uncle of accident victims Phang Pich, 21, and Sam Keo, 19, said a relative of Mr Ba­loung had contacted him to arrange a meeting to discuss compensation.

“I don’t want compensation in cash, but I am seeking for this inmate’s relative to pay all medical expenses for the two injured kids,” Mr Vuthy said.

Related Stories

Latest News

The Weekly DispatchA new weekly newsletter from The Cambodia Daily delivering news, analysis and opinion to your inbox. Published every Friday at 11:30am. Sign up today.