NGO Lawyer Faces Bribe Allegations

Relatives of two men convicted in August of planning to attack the 2006 Water Festival celebrations have accused a defense lawyer of cheating them out of thousands of dollars.

Family members of Som Soth, 42, and Pov Sam An, 46, have lodged grievances with the Cam­bo­dian Bar Association, alleging that Teang Vuthea, formerly an attorney with the free legal aid NGO Cambodian Defenders Pro­ject, took their money with prom­ises to pay bribes for the men’s release from jail.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court in August gave six men sentences of between six and 12 years for their roles in a vaguely-explained conspiracy, which au­thorities at the time said involved bombing the Water Festival celebrations in a bid to topple senior Interior Ministry officials.

Siem Nier, 35, brother-in-law of Som Soth, sentenced to six years, alleged Friday that lawyer Teang Vuthea warned his family that Som Soth risked a minimum of 15 years if bribes weren’t paid. On July 24, the family paid a total of $3,000, of which Teang Vuthea has re­turned only $1,000.

“As it was near the trial date, he scared us and demanded the money,” he said.

Chhum Tan, a nephew of Pov Sam An, said his family paid Teang Vuthea $3,900 on July 13. The family borrowed money to pay the CDP lawyer and Pov Sam An’s children have quit school to help pay off the interest on the loans, he added.

Teang Vuthea could not be contacted October 26 however CDP Executive Director Sok Sam Oeun said Teang Vuthea had re­signed in recent weeks.

“Our NGO has no policy of taking bribe money,” Sok Sam Oeun said. “We learned about this after he had already resigned,” he added.

Bar association spokesman Nou Tharith said October 26 that the allegations against Teang Vutha would be the subject of a decision by the 19-member Bar Council and that possible outcomes included a warning, a two-year suspension or disbarment.

 

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