Lawyer Faces No Jail Time for Hit-And-Run

Prominent Cambodian lawyer Nou Chantha will face no jail time for a hit-and-run incident in Ph­nom Penh’s Meanchey district that left one man with a broken leg and another with a gunshot wound to the stomach, municipal court Deputy Prosecutor Ek Cheng Huot said Monday.

After receiving the case file and the suspect’s vehicle from police sometime before the Khmer New Year holiday, Mr Ek Cheng Huot said the involved parties have already reached an agreement over compensation and since no one died during the of­fense the well-known attorney will only face a court-ordered fine.

“Going to prison is only if there is a death,” the deputy prosecutor said, though he declined to discuss the details of the case.

Mr Nou Chantha stands ac­cused of crashing into a three-wheeled motorbike driven by Prum Rikreay, 32, on the night of April 1. During an ensuing chase by police after the suspect fled the scene of the accident, Men Pisith, a 21-year-old passerby, was shot in the stomach. Originally the police said in a report on the incident that the lawyer was armed and had fired the shot. later, the police said they were unclear whether the lawyer or police were responsible for the shooting of the bystander.

The lawyer’s car was eventually stopped on the night of the crash and impounded by police, but Mr Nou Chantha never allowed po­lice to open his Lexus to conduct a search for the alleged weapons. Mr Nou Chantha also received a wound to his calf muscle, possibly inflicted by a bullet.

Municipal traffic police chief Tin Prasoer declined to comment on the incident and referred all questions to the court. However, he did say his department was not investigating the case of the young man who was shot.

“We work only on traffic accidents,” he said, “the other case, let them sue each other.”

Phnom Penh municipal police chief Touch Naruth also declined to comment on the shooting or whether police are investigating.

Mr Nou Chantha could not be reached for comment but the Cambodian Bar Association, of which Mr Nou Chantha is a mem­­­­­­ber, issued its own findings on Monday, saying the 52-year-old lawyer was not at fault in the traffic wreck or shooting.

The report alleges that Mr Prum Rikreay was driving his motorcycle erratically and struck Mr Nou Chantha’s Lexus coming in the opposite direction. The bar association’s description of the account also said Mr Nou Chan­tha does not own a gun and that unidentified “armed groups” had shot at the lawyer’s vehicle, injuring him and the young man, Mr Men Pisith.

“Right after [the crash], Mr Nou Chantha was going to get out and take a look but because he saw so many people including armed groups, he was concerned about his safety and didn’t stop,” the bar association maintained in their report.

Deputy Prosecutor Ek Cheng Huot said the accused attorney has already given compensation to the motorbike driver, but claimed that he did not know how much was paid.

“They have already compromised at the police station,” he said.

Chan Soveth, chief of the monitoring section for local human rights group Adhoc, said compensation rather than justice has unfortunately become part of the culture in dealing with traffic accidents.

“All of these problems, there must be someone responsible for the shootout, which injured a person,” he added.

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