A judge at the Siem Reap Provincial Court who let a CPP village chief walk free after questioning him over fraud allegations last month said on Wednesday that he had since charged and issued an arrest warrant for the man, who is now on the run.
Early last month, Investigating Judge Chhun Chanseiha questioned both Pat Koek, the village chief of Prey Koy and a member of the ruling CPP, and Heang Sary, the chief of Ampil commune and a member of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, over documents they had both signed allowing villagers to mortgage land also claimed by the state-run Apsara Authority.
Judge Chanseiha charged Mr. Sary with fraud and conspiracy to violate public property the same day and sent him to prison to await trial, but let Mr. Koek go free.
At the time, the judge declined to comment on the case.
On Wednesday, he said he had charged Mr. Koek with the same crimes sometime last month and issued a warrant for his arrest after the village chief missed a court appointment.
“The court issued a warrant ordering authorities to bring the village chief to the court after he failed to show up,” Judge Chanseiha said.
He refused to explain, however, why he charged and jailed only the opposition party official when both men were at the courthouse last month.
“I followed legal procedure. In short, this is what I can say,” he said.
Asked about the opposition’s accusations that he released Mr. Koek last month for political reasons, he replied: “I have nothing to say about what they think about it.”
Siem Reap City police chief Tith Narong and his deputy, Nuonsak Chamroeunrith, said they had not seen an arrest warrant for Mr. Koek.
Commune councilor Chheng Sey, however, said he had both seen the warrant for Mr. Koek’s arrest and witnessed police searching for him in the area.
“I have often seen police coming here to look for him,” he said.
The village chief’s son, Mao Koek, said he last saw his father a few days before the warrant was issued. He said his father had been headed to the Thai province of Surin, just across the border from Oddar Meanchey.
“He has escaped and been in hiding since the warrant to arrest him was issued,” the son said. “The last time I met him, he told me he was going to see a sick in-law in Surin. He has not returned since.”
Sok Kimseng, the provincial deputy director of the opposition CNRP, which formed in 2012 with the merger of the Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party, maintained that Judge Chanseiha had acted with political bias when he let Mr. Koek go free last month.
“I say it was a politically motivated decision to jail the commune chief,” he said. “The CPP village chief, who first signed and stamped those documents, has never been arrested.”