A former free legal aid lawyer has denied allegations of wrongdoing made by relatives of two former clients, saying that the thousands of dollars he collected from the families were for his professional services.
Family members of Som Soth, 42, and Pov Sam An, 46, who were convicted in August of planning a bomb attack during last year’s Water Festival, lodged complaints with the Cambodian Bar Association on Oct 23 against Teang Vuthea, who previously worked for the respected legal aid NGO the Cambodian Defenders Project.
The relatives alleged that Teang Vuthea had taken thousands of dollars from them claiming that it would be used to pay bribes to gain the release of the two men from jail.
Teang Vuthea said by telephone Sunday that he had receipts to prove the money was paid to him for “the service of a lawyer.”
“There should have been an investigation before telling the clients to file complaints [to the Cambodia Bar Association],” Teang Vuthea said.
“It is unjust for me. This was a bill made from agreements [with clients],” he said.
On Friday, Chhum Than, a nephew of one of the convicted men, claimed that his family had paid Teang Vuthea $3,900 on July 13. Siem Nier, a brother-in-law of the second convicted man, said that his family paid Teang Vuthea $3,000 on July 24.
Both families said that the attorney has since given each of them $1,000 back.
Teang Vuthea declined to confirm the exact amount he received from the families but disputed the dates on which the families say the payments were made.
Siem Nier confirmed that a receipt given to him by Teang Vuthea states that the money was paid for legal services, though that was not the real intention of the money, which was to be paid in bribes.
Siem Nier also alleged that Teang Vuthea was working for the Cambodian Defenders Project-which typically works pro bono-when the money was paid.
“[T]he CDP can’t take money,” Siem Nier said.
Teang Vuthea said Sunday that he had resigned from the NGO on July 30 before the payments were made, and that the NGO only fired him on Aug 22, accusing him of accepting money to defend what should have been free cases.
He also accused CDP Executive Director Sok Sam Oeun of prompting the out-of-pocket families to complain against him at the bar association.
Sok Sam Oeun denied Sunday that he had made any such suggestion to the families.
As to Teang Vuthea’s contention that he was fired in August, Sok Sam Oeun said that he could neither confirm nor deny this as this was an internal matter for the NGO.
But Sok Sam Oeun added, “When he took [the money], he had not stopped working yet.”