In a crowded, silent Phnom Penh courtroom Thursday, four men accused of abducting prominent Cambodian-Chinese business people and holding them for ransom were sentenced to 10 to 18 years in prison, marking the end of Cambodia’s first known kidnapping trial.
The four—Ou Pich, 24; Prak Bun Heng, 22; Hu Sam Nang, 30; and Cheun Sary, 40—showed no emotion while being sentenced, following a full day of arguments by prosecutor Nget Sarath and the defendants’ three lawyers.
Several times the defense lawyers tried to get the kidnapping and terrorism charges dropped against their clients, citing a lack of evidence. But they were repeatedly rejected by the judge, Sok Sethamony.
“This group caused social disorder and instability in our society,” Sok Sethamony told the court shortly before sentencing the four.
In four separate incidents between March and November 1998, the four defendants and five other suspects allegedly kidnapped four business executives, including Foster’s Beer boss Meng Yudavy, often keeping them in brutal conditions until ransoms were paid.
During their imprisonment, the victims often were beaten and kicked, according to Sok Sethamony. The judge added that in recent weeks he traveled to each victim’s residence to get a statement, apparently because they were reluctant to get actively involved in prosecuting their captors.
In some instances the kidnappers wrapped their victim’s head with heavy tape, making it difficult to breath. On other occasions, the victims were beaten while the kidnappers called their families so their screams could be heard over the phone, Sok Sethamony charged.
Although one victim, Kong Seng, was able to escape, the others were all held until heavy ransoms were paid.
The family of Chea Seng Lay paid $80,000 for his return, while $105,000 was paid for Sok Chong and a total of $306,000 in cash and jewelry was paid for Meng Yudavy.
The defendants—all dressed in green prison uniforms—repeatedly denied Thursday the charges being brought against them, shaking their heads no as the judge spoke to them.
The judge asked that each of the defendant’s videotaped confession be played for the court before asking them why they still were denying responsibility for the crimes. The defendants told him police threatened their lives if they did not confess, prompting another unsuccessful request by the defense lawyers to have the charges dropped.
All four were taken directly to prison after the trial ended late Thursday afternoon.
The entire group of defendants also has been ordered to pay back a total of $425,000 to their victims.
Five other kidnapping suspects—Sok Nara, 30; Hu Pao, 27; Chei Sambath; Hem Makara, 31; and Lang Kim Leang, 34—were tried in absentia and also sentenced to prison terms.
The five have not yet been arrested, eluding police as the other four were rounded up in late 1998 and early 1999.
During the arrests police confiscated two Mercedes Benz cars, which will be kept by the state. Another vehicle, a Nissan, was used as part of a civil lawsuit settlement. The remainder of the property seized by police will be returned to the offenders when they are released from prison, court officials said.
Most of the approximately 60 people in the courtroom audience were members of Cambodia’s security forces, and Thursday’s trial was conducted under heavy security. None of the victims or their families were present, for fear of being seen in public.