Self-styled courtroom brokers, known in Khmer as neak roka or “paper people,” who act as fixers in both criminal and civil proceedings, are a mainstay of the corruption that is subverting the work of the country’s judicial system, lawyers and legal experts said.
Outgoing Bar Association President Ky Tech described the brokers and their key position within the judicial process as the root of the problems facing the country’s oft-criticized courts.
“They made the courts corrupt,” he said in a recent interview. “They whisper and have cases decided unfairly,” the bar president said.
People involved in court cases pay the brokers to negotiate on their behalf with court officials. Eventually the broker transfers payments to court officials, who in turn make decisions on the case in their favor, Ky Tech said.
“Brokers work on the cases instead of the lawyers,” Ky Tech. “The law says that no one can work on a case but a lawyer.”
However, the brokers have also been known to keep the bribes for themselves, he added.
“If lawyers take money, they will issue receipts. And if they cheat, it isn’t hard to find them.”
Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana, who sits on the Supreme Council of the Magistracy, said he was investigating the practice of brokering but he needed evidence in order to act against these people.
“If you have the names and report them to me, I will work on it immediately,” he said. “This is the act of corruption.”
Phnom Penh Municipal Court Director Chiv Keng, who also sits on the Supreme Council of the Magistracy, said that although brokers once freely advertised their services in the halls of his court, this was no longer the case.
“They were here before, running in and out of the courthouse gate,” he said. “We prosecuted four of them,” he added.
“They took people’s money, saying they would give it to the court, but the court acted in accordance with the law and did not listen to the brokers,” Chiv Keng added, though he declined to name the four brokers who were prosecuted.
Chiv Keng said the Bar Association had recently complained that there were three other high-profile brokers, but he was still waiting to receive information about them.
It’s a common practice that people search for influential people to help their case once they become involved in the courts, Cambodian Defenders Project Executive Director Sok Sam Oeun said.
But the culture of the broker only exists because of acquiescence by court officials, Sok Sam Oeun said.
“If the courts are clean, how could the middlemen do business? The brokers can’t bribe if there is no one to receive the bribes,” he said.
Legal Aid of Cambodia attorney Ny Chandy said the cost of bribery paid through the brokers has often led poor criminal defendants to sell their homes to get the ruling they want. Once a case is begun, a broker will often be the first to contact both the defendants and judges.
“They even know the names of the poor accused people in the prison and contact them to tell them to sell their land and do the deal,” Ny Chandy said. “This is when people lose their belief in the courts.”
One man, who spoke on condition of anonymity, recounted how a relative used a broker to help with her 2005 divorce case. The woman’s husband was refusing to sell their house and split the proceeds.
The woman contacted a broker, an in-law of a government official, who said he could deliver what she wanted for $5,000. She paid, and it appeared to work as the municipal court ruled in her favor.
But an appeal by the husband won at the Appeal Court, despite her having paid the broker an additional $4,000. Already out of pocket $9,000 to the broker, the woman decided against taking the case to the Supreme Court, the man said.