New Justice Minister Denies Bribery Reports

Newly named Minister of Justice Neav Sithong Thursday denied Khmer-language press reports that he was named minister because of bribes paid to National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“I never bribed the prince or Prime Minister Hun Sen even one cent or one riel. This was a big slander. The prince has said it is not true….In my career, I have never received any job through dirty ways,” Neav Sithong said.

Parliamentarians voted Tuesday to appoint Neav Sithong to replace fellow Funcinpec member Uk Vithun. Neav Sithon had served as Supreme Court prosecutor-general since 1999.

Hun Sen said the successful vote “shows that the government is encouraging reform.” The prime minister had previously crit­icized Uk Vithun for “abnormalities” within the ministry.

Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy said Thursday that he thought Uk Vithun had done a good job. He said Uk Vithun was fired by Prince Ranariddh for “per­sonal reasons.”

“I have nothing against Neav Sithong, but I deplore the fact that Uk Vithun has been fired,” Sam Rainsy said.

Four opposition lawmakers walked out of the assembly vote Tuesday, calling the Cabinet reshuffle a “useless game” of power-sharing.

Hun Sen said Uk Vithun was removed at the request of Prince Ranariddh.

Both Prince Ran­ariddh and Hun Sen said reform was too slow under Uk Vithun.

Reports in some Khmer-language newspapers this week have included the bribery accusations. Neav Sithong called the reports “nonsense” and deplored the “dirty words” the newspapers have used against Prince Ran­ariddh.

Sam Rainsy repeated Thursday the bribery accusation, alleging that Royal Group Chairman Kith Meang paid the bribe on behalf of Neav Sithong.

“I have spoken to very reliable sources and people directly involved,” Sam Rainsy said.

But Kith Meang said by telephone Thursday that he does not know Neav Sithong. “I don’t know anything about this,” he said.

Meanwhile, Neav Sithong said Thursday he is waiting for a royal decree and the traditional swearing-in ceremony before he moves his office from the Supreme Court to the Ministry of Justice.

As Minister of Justice, Neav Sithong will also serve on the Supreme Council of Magistracy, which oversees judges and prosecutors.

Neav Sithong said he would like to push for regulations on the behavior of judges and for an increase in judges’ salaries.

“Abnormalities would be re­duced if judges had a larger salary,” he said.

He said he had plans to reform the ministry, but will wait until he meets with Hun Sen to reveal his goals publicly.

Neav Sithong graduated from the Faculty of Law and Eco­nomics in the late 1960s. He served as a judge at the Ministry of Justice, in Pailin and in Kom­pong Thom province, before fleeing to the Thai border when the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975.

He became an Australian citizen and returned to Cambodia in 1993. He served as governor of Kompong Speu province from 1993 to 1999.


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