Foreign Minister Hor Namhong on Thursday strongly condemned Finland for its decision to grant an entry visa to disgraced former Phnom Penh police chief Heng Pov and accused the Finnish government of harboring common criminals.
In a letter to Finnish Foreign Affairs Minister Erkki Tuomioja released by Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry, Hor Namhong described the decision as “very regrettable.”
“It is very regrettable indeed that criminals who fabricated claims against the Royal Government of Cambodia to [mask] their actual crimes have gained protection from Finland,” the letter states.
“Therefore, in the future, it is futile to talk on various frameworks about cooperation to combat and prevent organized crimes, but instead we should talk about how to nurture them,” Hor Namhong wrote.
Heng Pov’s lawyers announced Wednesday that after two months of negotiation and an independent review by the Finnish government, they received written notification of the decision the same day and exhibited it at Malaysia’s High Court.
Since his Oct 3 arrest for overstaying his entry pass in Malaysia, Heng Pov has been fighting deportation to Cambodia, where he was convicted in September of the 2003 murder of municipal court judge Sok Sethamony and is wanted for a host of crimes. Heng Pov is seeking political asylum and has made counter-allegations of corruption and murder at the highest levels of the Cambodian government.
At a press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hor Namhong accused Finland of again protecting a wanted Cambodian criminal.
“Doing this means Finland feeds and cares for criminals,” he said. “We have a lot of criminals in our prisons and if Finland agrees to take them, we will agree to send them,” he said.
Hor Namhong said he has also forwarded to Tuomioja copies of an arrest warrant and an Aug 4 Interpol “Red Notice” for Heng Pov, and has asked Finland to reconsider its decision.
Hor Namhong claimed in his letter that both SRP activist Sok Yoeun, who was convicted of a 1998 assassination attempt on Prime Minister Hun Sen and later given asylum in Finland, and Heng Pov had gained sympathy by besmirching Cambodia’s good name. Human Rights groups have long maintained that the case against Sok Yoeun, a member of the Sam Rainsy Party, was politically motivated.
Finland’s Ambassador to Malaysia Lauri Korpinen said by telephone from Kuala Lumpur that the decision to grant Heng Pov’s visa was made after an ordinary application process, adding that human rights concerns expressed by Heng Pov’s lawyers and unnamed NGOs had been a “major factor” in Finland’s decision.
Korpinen denied that Finland was taking sides in the dispute between Heng Pov and the Cambodian government.
“We are outsiders,” he said. “We are not taking any stance on this. We were worried based on the information received from [Heng Pov’s] lawyers and from the NGOs.”
Korpinen said the visa has not yet been issued but confirmed that Finland has agreed to offer one, which will be valid for 90 days and only within Finland. The visa’s issuance depends on the outcome of Heng Pov’s court case in Malaysia, which is scheduled to resume Dec 13, he said.
Korpinen said he understood NGOs had approached other European countries on behalf of Heng Pov as well as the European Parliament but declined to give further details.
“There is wider activity in Europe concerning this case,” he added.
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay declined to say whether he approved of Finland’s decision but described Hor Namhong’s remarks to the Finnish government as intemperate.
“I believe he is overreacting on this decision of Finland,” Son Chhay said, referring to Hor Namhong’s offer to deport all Cambodian convicts. “This was just a childish thing to say or to do,” he added.
“We have become accustomed now to our government reacting to many decisions of the international community with a kind of unprofessional way.”
The SRP was particularly grateful to Finland for sheltering Sok Yoeun, Son Chhay said, adding that the SRP activist had been falsely convicted of the 1998 rocket attack on Hun Sen in Siem Reap province. The attack left the prime minister unscathed but killed an innocent bystander.
“It was a very difficult circumstance,” Son Chhay said. “No other country was willing to help this old man stay out of danger and Finland had the courage to do so.”
In addition to Sok Yoeun, Finland in 2004 also accepted Chea Kimny, wife of slain Free Trade Union President Chea Vichea, who was gunned down in January of that year.
In 2005, Finland also gave political asylum to Roeun Yarann, the wife of FTU representative Ros Sovannareth, who was also gunned down in 2004, shortly after the assassination of Chea Vichea.