Justice Minister Uk Vithun said Thursday a committee has been formed to investigate allegations that Municipal Court officials took bribes in exchange for releasing 66 suspects of serious crimes last month.
Uk Vithun (Fun) said the investigation was prompted by a complaint filed by Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara (CPP).
“And if the committee finds out the court officers are guilty I will send this case to the disciplinary council of the Supreme Council of the Magistracy,” Uk Vithun said. “If they have done serious wrong they must be fired from their jobs.”
The five-member committee is headed by Justice Secretary of State Suy Nou (Fun). Uk Vithun said.
The Supreme Council of Magistracy, the highest judiciary body, also has a copy of Chea Sophara’s allegations. Ty Neng, a council member, said Thursday he could not comment on the complaint until it has been reviewed.
Chea Sophara’s decision to tackle possible court corruption has been called a risk by analysts, but government spokesman Khieu Kanharith indicated Thursday the municipal governor has the green light from Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“On this issue…I am sure Hun Sen is supportive,” said Khieu Kanharith.
Khieu Kanharith also said that legal procedure dictates that the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Council of the Magistracy must now take action.
“The Ministry of Justice has to reply [to Chea Sophara] and make an explanation….There must be an explanation and action,” said Khieu Kanharith, adding that sometimes it was necessary to “clean the house” to stop corruption.
Deputy Chief Prosecutor Nget Sarath reiterated Thursday that Municipal Court officials aren’t guilty of wrongdoing.
But, he said, “The [Justice] ministry has the right to investigate the 66 people [released] and some people named in the [Governor’s] complaint.” And he said that if evidence exists, then officials should be punished.
Chea Sophara made the allegations against the court officials earlier this week at a municipal meeting attended by about 300 people.
At the time, he distributed a copy of his complaint against court officials, and talked about a detailed list of alleged corrupt officials based on a military police investigation.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said Thursday that in the interest of the rule of law in Cambodia an investigation is necessary
“There should be an investigation by the Supreme Council of the Magistracy. This should not be done just because of the words of [Chea Sophara]. Even if there is a rumor [of corruption] the allegations must be investigated,” said Sok Sam Oeun.
He said the Supreme Council of the Magistracy could suspend a judge. However, even if a judge were suspended, the judge would not lose his or her salary, Sok Sam Oeun predicted.
Uk Vithun also indicated Thursday Chea Sophara’s complaint is providing an impetus to generally root out corrupt officials and reform the court, adding he would like to see young graduates replace some of the posts currently being held by older court officials.