Phnom Penh Municipality announced on Monday the establishment of a telephone hotline for members of the public to report acts of extortion by police during nighttime traffic stops to verify registration and import duty payment.
“City Hall will take the strictest measures against any individual officer who uses this opportunity to extort money from vehicle owners,” the statement said.
Police around Phnom Penh have impounded motorbikes and imposed fines of $50 for absent license plates and $200 for failure to prove payment of import duties, according to a senior police official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
However, following complaints from the public, the 3-month-old program has been temporarily halted until the end of the Pchum Ben Buddhist holiday later this month, officials said.
Municipal police officials on Monday denied that police had been extorting money from motorists.
Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth said that last week he had ordered the campaign postponed and assigned district police to conduct routine nighttime checks for weapons and stolen property instead.
“If any officers are involved in extortion, I will fire them,” he said.
Lay Bunthoeun, chief of the municipal intervention police, said he could not recall how many vehicles had been impounded during the nighttime operation, but acknowledged that police had been accused of extortion.
Most complaints came from those who were unhappy at having to pay import duties and buy number plates in order to retrieve their motorbikes from the municipal public transportation department, Lay Bunthoeun said.
“Many of the bikes bearing no number plate are owned by teenagers,” he said. “They are prime suspects for robbery.”
Touch Naruth said that around eight suspected robbers were arrested during the traffic stops and that the added police presence at night led to a drop in crime.