Police and rights groups yesterday accused Ratanakkiri Provincial Court Judge Thor Saran of illegally using a pickup truck confiscated by police last year after it was used in a robbery that resulted in the death of two people.
Ratanakkiri provincial police chief Ray Rai said by telephone that Judge Saran has been driving the Toyota Tiger pickup for over a year after his police officers arrested multiple suspects and confiscated the vehicle allegedly used in the Bokeo district robbery last year. The police chief said he could not recall the details of the case but added that it has not yet gone to trial.
“My commissariat worked on this, arresting criminals and also confiscated the evidence to submit to the court; then the evidence has been used,” Mr Rai said. “It is beyond my police’s jurisdiction, now it is with the court, but the usage is real.”
“That one is being driven every day. It was confiscated from a felony crime of a killing case in Bokeo…. He has already been driving for a long time, for more than a year,” he added.
Asked if he believes it to be illegal for a judicial official to drive the confiscated pickup, Mr Rai said: “For us, a vehicle of a crime can’t be used. It is the law, but the law holder is violating the law—I also don’t understand.”
The police chief added that his hands were tied in the matter: “There is no measure. The measure is the work of the higher level.”
Contacted by telephone yesterday, Judge Saran admitted that he has been driving the pickup but said there was nothing wrong with him doing so.
“I use it for the state’s work, I just borrow it to use. It’s the court’s work, for meetings and to give donations,” Judge Saran said before hanging up his telephone.
But Ny Chandy, an attorney with NGO Legal Aid of Cambodia, said that even if the judge was using the vehicle for court business it was both illegal and potentially injurious to the case against the alleged robbers.
“An investigating judge controls the vehicle temporarily, meaning to keep it in its original form,” he said. “It cannot even be used for the institution’s interest,” he added, referring to the court.
“The wrongdoing might affect the finding of justice,” Mr Chandy continued. “At some point, the vehicle could be partly or completely damaged, then it could not be brought in as evidence.”
“I have never heard of any judge acting like this; normally judges have their own cars,” Mr Chandy added.
Appeal Court President You Bunleng, who is also a member of the Supreme Council of Magistracy, declined to comment about Judge Saran’s alleged wrongdoing before seeing an official complaint. The Supreme Council is charged with overseeing the actions of the judiciary.
Judge Saran has also made headlines in recent months for allegedly advising that a rights activist cease working in Ratanakkiri in order to avoid potential incitement charges, and for allegedly requesting a large swath of land in return for ending legal proceedings against 10 men involved in a land dispute with a well connected company.
Judge Saran has admitted to asking that Adhoc activist Pen Bonnar leave the province but has since said that even if the rights worker is not in Ratanakkiri he can still be charged. He also admitted to asking for the land, but claims it had nothing to do with releasing the land dispute suspects.