Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court on Tuesday acquitted 22 villagers who were originally charged by disgraced former prosecutor Tob Chan Sereivuth, who is serving 19 years in jail, court officials said yesterday.
“After we heard the cases, there were no witnesses to provide sufficient evidence against the villagers,” Presiding Judge Thiem Chanpisith said, adding that the villagers’ hearing had taken place at Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court on Oct 28.
Mr Chan Sereivuth was convicted in May to 19 years in jail for corruption in what was the first case to be completed by the recently created Anti-Corruption Unit.
The original complaint against the villagers was made back in 2005 by the National Development Agricultural Association (NDAA), which contested 34.5 hectares of land in Poipet City when Mr Chan Sereivuth was the judge in Banteay Meanchey.
In 2008, four of the villagers were arrested for the destruction of property on the land, and in 2009, the case was mysteriously moved to Pursat province, where Mr Chan Sereivuth was the prosecutor. NDAA confirmed at the time that Mr Chan Sereivuth had been promised two hectares of the NDAA’s favor.
Speaking by telephone, Chea Sitha, 55, one of the four villagers who were jailed and released on bail in February, 2010, said that he was overjoyed by the court’s decision. He expressed some hesitancy over his release, however, as the land dispute is still ongoing with the provincial cadastral office, which took over ownership of the land in 2010.
“I am so happy that the villagers, including myself, are acquitted from a crime that we never committed,” he said.
Nov Phalla, another of the acquitted villagers, said that local authorities had recently proposed splitting the disputed land into two parts, with half of the 34.5 hectares going to 50 families currently living on the land.
“Now, we have justice, but we are still victims of a land dispute,” he said.