Malaysia’s highest court Friday granted former Phnom Penh police chief Heng Pov leave to begin legal action against three Malaysian government officials over his deportation to Cambodia, according to an attorney and media reports.
With at least two Cambodian diplomatic officials present, a three-judge panel at the Federal Court took 30 minutes before unanimously ruling that Heng Pov’s lawyers can begin proceedings against the three men, Heng Pov’s lawyer N Sivananthan said by telephone from Kuala Lumpur on Friday.
N Sivananthan has accused the three officials of contempt of court over Heng Pov’s deportation in December and is seeking their imprisonment.
The three officials are Malaysia’s Immigration Department Director-General Wahid Mohd Don; the department’s enforcement chief Ishak Haji Mohamed; and Mohamed Hanafiah bin Zakaria, deputy head of prosecution in the Attorney General’s Chambers.
“We have…heard the submission by counsel and are of the unanimous view that at this stage, there is prima facie evidence for leave to be granted,” Judge Richard Malanjum was quoted by Malaysia’s The Star newspaper as saying.
On Dec 21, Malanjum was sharply critical of the announcement that Heng Pov had been deported to Cambodia one hour before his final appeal could be heard.
Friday’s ruling results from a Jan 24 application by N Sivananthan which sought to have the three officials imprisoned, accusing them of interfering with the administration of justice by engineering Heng Pov’s premature deportation and lying to the court about the fallen police officer’s immigration case.
Heng Pov is now serving 18 years at Prey Sar prison for killing municipal court judge Sok Sethamony in 2003.
Charges of interfering with the administration of justice have never before been brought against Malaysian officials in a criminal proceeding, N Sivananthan said.
“These people cited will actually be in the dock,” he said.
N Sivananthan added that the court had given him 21 days to file a notice of motion, after which the court will set a hearing date.
Both Malaysian and Cambodian officials have denied any wrongdoing in the case.
A Malaysian Embassy spokesman could not be reached Sunday. Malaysian Embassy officials have declined all requests for comment since Singaporean officials allowed Heng Pov, who was at the time seeking political asylum, to enter Malaysia on Sept 1.
If found in contempt of court, the three men risk unspecified prison sentences and fines, or both, N Sivananthan said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak on Sunday reiterated that there was nothing irregular about Heng Pov’s deportation.
“We, the Cambodian law enforcement officials, are implementing what has been provided by law with our counterparts in Malaysia,” he said.
Interior Ministry Penal Police Chief Mok Chito, who was aboard the plane that returned Heng Pov to Cambodia, on Sunday referred all questions to Keo Vanthan, deputy head of Phnom Penh’s Interpol office.
Keo Vanthan, who also escorted Heng Pov back to Cambodia, said he was traveling Sunday and was unable to speak to a reporter. However in a Jan 28 interview, he said he was confident that the Malaysian court would not find any wrongdoing by Cambodian officials.
“I swear we never [paid] one dollar to the government officials,” he said.
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said the legal action would be a welcome opportunity to learn the truth about how Heng Pov came to be unexpectedly returned to Cambodia.
“There was something wrong when Heng Pov was somehow brought back,” he claimed, adding that the case in Malaysia “is an opportunity to learn more about what is going on behind closed doors.”
(Additional reporting by Chhay Channyda and Pin Sisovann.)