Lawyer Says Alleged Bribe Was Campaign Pledge

A lawyer for a commune chief in Kompong Thom province charged with taking bribes from three farmers to allow the construction of illegal reservoirs in 2012 claimed during the official’s trial Monday that the money was merely a contribution toward his client’s election campaign that year.

Hum Thy, chief of Chamna Krom commune in Stong district, was charged with accepting bribes alongside Cheat Syvutha, director of the provincial water resources department, by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in 2012, following an investigation by the government’s Anti-Corruption Unit.

The three farmers—Theang Thea, 35, Thav Tum, 34, and Meng Phally, 54—were charged with giving bribes. Nine other local officials, including the governor and military police commander of Stong district, were charged with misappropriation of public funds.

None of the defendants have been sent to prison and only the fishermen were present in court Monday, with the officials all choosing to be represented by their lawyers.

Mr. Thy’s attorney, Teng Vannarith, told the court that the money given to his client was nothing more than a campaign donation.

“He received the money during the commune election campaign in 2012,” Mr. Vannarith said of his client. “It was not given in exchange for the signatures” to approve the reservoirs, he added.

Koy Kunthy, a lawyer for the three farmers, also said the money was meant to go toward the commune chief’s election campaign.

“They had no intention of bribing him in order to fulfill their intention [of building reservoirs],” he said.

Neither lawyer said how much money had changed hands, but the farmers claimed they paid Mr. Thy between 500,000 riel (about $125) and 1 million riel (about $250) each.

Deputy prosecutor Top Chhun Long said the reservoirs were constructed on protected land near the shore of the Tonle Sap lake. He did not say how many reservoirs were built.

“The acts of the accused, Hum Thy and Cheat Syvutha, show a dishonest intention in receiving the bribes from the accused, Theang Thea, Thav Tum and Meng Phally, while performing their duty and jobs as public civil servants,” Mr. Chhun Long told the court.

Presiding Judge Heng Kesro said a verdict in the case would be handed down on May 28.

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