Lawyers for Brother Number Two Nuon Chea yesterday sued Prime Minister Hun Sen and 10 other senior government and CPP officials, accusing them of criminal interference in the work of the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
In their complaint lodged with prosecutors at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, defense lawyers Michiel Pestman and Andy Ianuzzi accused the prime minister of pressuring both witnesses and the court itself, misdemeanor offenses under the 2009 Penal Code that carry possible jail terms and fines.
“The complaint alleges that Prime Minister Hun Sen and a number of other senior officials of the Royal Government of Cambodia—individually and through their participation in a common criminal plan—are guilty of interfering with justice and the rights of the defendants at the ECCC to a fair trial,” the lawyers said in a statement.
Deputy Prosecutor Sok Roeun confirmed that the municipal court had received the complaint but said it had yet to be assigned to a prosecutor.
Although Nuon Chea’s lawyers have been campaigning for years to draw attention to corruption at the tribunal, this is their most dramatic move yet, and it comes in the midst of what may be the court’s worst crisis to date.
Investigating Judge Siegfried Blunk resigned from the court on Oct 9, saying that government interference prompted his decision.
In the months leading up to Judge Blunk’s sudden departure, the court was roiled by claims that he and his Cambodian counterpart were deliberately burying two politically sensitive cases, known as 003 and 004.
In addition to Mr Hun Sen, the complaint accuses Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak and Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan of making public statements of opposition to cases 003 and 004 that amounted to interference.
These include the prime minister’s now-famous declaration to visiting UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the two cases were “not allowed,” and the information minister’s decree that judges wanting to pursue the contentious cases could “pack their bags and leave.”
More recently, in response to Judge Blunk’s resignation, Mr Siphan said: “The government doesn’t want failure; that is why it only allows Case 002 to take place.”
During a meeting called last week to address the fallout from Judge Blunk’s resignation, UN Under Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Patricia O’Brien told Deputy Prime Minister Sok An that the government should stop making such statements.
Keo Remy, deputy chief of the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit, accused Nuon Chea’s lawyers of using Judge Blunk’s resignation and Ms O’Brien’s visit to take the heat off their client, whose trial for genocide and crimes against humanity is just getting under way.
“This is a political issue to change the battlefield from the hearing of Case 002 in the [near] future to put blame on the government,” Mr Remy said during a press conference at the Council of Ministers.
In yesterday’s complaint, the Nuon Chea team also sued six “insider witnesses,” top government and CPP officials who ignored summonses issued by an investigating judge in 2009.
The six are: Senate and CPP President Chea Sim, National Assembly President Heng Samrin, Finance Minister Keat Chhon, Mr Namhong and CPP senators Ouk Bunchhoeun and Sim Ka, who were called by the tribunal to testify on their experiences during the Khmer Rouge regime but never showed up.
At that time, Mr Kanharith said the government’s position was that the six should not testify, while Mr Hun Sen said in a speech that he had personally vetoed the testimony of “some people.”
The complaint to the municipal court said these statements amounted to witness intimidation.
The lawyers are also suing Royal Palace Minister Kong Sam Ol for failing to deliver a summons to King Father Norodom Sihanouk, whose testimony had also been sought.
Mr Siphan, one of the accused officials, called the Nuon Chea team’s complaint a “dirty strategy” and said he and other government officials had never obstructed justice.
“So far, I don’t see any black and white instructions from the government to have somebody stop doing this, stop doing that,” Mr Siphan said, adding: “[Court officials] are not supposed to do what people say; they are supposed to do what they are supposed to do.”
Mr Kanharith and Ngeth Borey, Mr Hun Sen’s deputy Cabinet chief, declined to comment, while Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said he was unaware of the matter. Mr Ka, Mr Chhon and Mr Sam Ol could not be reached, and Mr Samrin hung up on a reporter.