A man convicted of orchestrating the killing of an Interior Ministry official has been appointed an undersecretary of state for the same ministry in the new mandate, a move observers said emphasizes a lack of respect for the judicial system.
Funcinpec member Srun Vong Vannak was convicted in a much-criticized daylong September 1997 trial for ordering the killing of Kov Samuth, an Interior Ministry police official and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s brother-in-law.
Srun Vong Vannak, a former chief of security for Sam Rainsy, served one and one-half years of his 13 year sentence, retroactive from the time of his February 1997 arrest. He was pardoned by King Norodom Sihanouk in September 1998, after outcry by human rights workers and opposition politicians.
“He gets amnesty from the King, so he is free to participate [in the government],” Funcinpec Deputy Secretary-General Ok Socheat said Sunday. “Our colleagues at the Ministry of Interior receive him openly.”
Other senior officials have also been charged with crimes and pardoned, including co-Minister of Defense Nhiek Bun Chhay, Senior Minister Serey Kosal, and co-Minister of Interior Prince Norodom Sirivudh, though none actually served prison time.
Information Minister and CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the government has no problem with the appointment because Srun Vong Vannak was legitimately released from prison.
“In Cambodia, when you leave the prison, you are free,” he said Thursday.
Observers and opposition politicians, however, said the appointment is an acknowledgment that his conviction had more to do with political wrangling than wrongdoing.
“There are a lot of politically motivated charges, like at the present time,” Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Ung Bun-Ang said Sunday.
Srun Vong Vannak could not be reached for comment Sunday.
Sok Sam Oeun, director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said the appointment shows there is little confidence in the judicial system, which can be used as a weapon to intimidate opposition.
“They still use guerrilla tactics in the political game,” he said.