Judge Draws Fire for Acquitting Official’s Wife

More than 100 angry market vendors took to the streets of Kom­pong Chhnang on Tuesday to protest a provincial court ruling in favor of the wife of a powerful police official they accused of stealing $37,600 from a community borrowing scheme.

Outside the court, the protesters said Judge Rith Hoeun was guilty of corruption when he ruled that Sim Chan Ras­mei, wife of Kompong Chhnang Deputy Po­lice Com­mander Thach Chan­dara, was innocent of the crime.

Sim Chan Rasmei was a member of a tong tin—an informal lending operation in which participants each invest an equal sum and are able to bid for monthly use of the total funds by offering the highest interest rate. Pov Salei, who acted as banker for the tong tin in question, said Sim Chan Rasmei borrowed $37,000 from the pot, but never paid it back.

On May 7, Kompong Chhnang court convicted Meas Phallin, Sim Chan Rasmei’s sister-in-law, of stealing the money. Protesters claimed that Sim Chan Rasmei had used Meas Phallin as a representative in her dealings with money lenders, but was herself guilty of the scam.

Meas Phallin was sentenced to one year in prison and ordered to pay $37,600, the original loan plus interest, back to the tong tin. But she fled before the hearing, successfully avoiding both imprisonment and repayment.

Protesters on Tuesday accused Judge Rith Hoeun of accepting bribes from the well-connected woman, and of disregarding documentary evidence against Sim Chan Rasmei.

“It is unjust that the court made its ruling in favor of bad people,” said Mean Thon, husband of the tong tin banker Pov Salei, over the phone.

But Judge Rith Hoeun on Tues­day denied receiving bribes from any party involved in the case. “My ruling was based on law, not in favor of the relative of a powerful man, or on money,” said Rith Hoeun, who added that he has worked as a judge since 1982. “I saw 61 documents that proved Sim Chan Rasmei was not in­volved in the case.”

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