The former director of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, who was ousted last week amid allegations of serious corruption, gave a luxury SUV to his son—a local police official—after it was confiscated from a suspected drug trafficker, the National Police said in a statement Sunday.
Phnom Penh anti-drug police arrested Thav Thavy for his suspected involvement in drug trafficking after receiving an order from a municipal court judge in November last year, according to the statement, which was posted on the National Police website.
Mr. Thavy was later released on bail but was arrested again on Friday for “not respecting the court’s obligations,” it said.
After the initial arrest, Ang Mealaktei, the ousted municipal court director, gave Mr. Thavy’s late-model Audi SUV to his son, the statement adds.
“[A] car with the brand name of Audi, which belongs to Thav Thavy, was seized as evidence when he was charged with drug trafficking,” it said.
“Mr. Ang Mealaktei, a former director of the Municipal Court, gave it to his child, the Prampi Makara deputy district police chief, who used it as his possession.”
Sok Setha, a Prampi Makara district police officer, confirmed that Mr. Mealaktei’s son was a deputy police chief there.
“He is [Mr. Mealaktei’s] son and, yes, he is a district deputy police chief,” Mr. Setha said, declining to identify the son by name.
District police chief Neth Sithon declined to comment.
Tey Visal, deputy chief of the municipal police’s penal bureau, said Sunday that his officers re-arrested Mr. Thavy, 32, on Friday night in Sen Sok district’s Toek Thla commune after receiving a warrant from Investigating Judge Nou Veasna earlier that day.
“[Mr. Thavy] was charged with drug trafficking according to the arrest warrant,” he said, adding that he was sent to prison on Saturday.
Mr. Visal said that when Mr. Thavy was originally arrested in November, police had confiscated drugs and impounded the Audi.
“The car was sent to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court with other evidence,” he said.
“I do not know who took it to drive, but I recently saw it back at the court,” he added.
Mr. Visal also said he found it strange that Mr. Thavy was freed on bail in the first place.
“His release was not ordinary,” he said, without elaborating.
Sok Sam Oeun, a lawyer who often represents defendants in political cases at the municipal court, said Sunday that allowing someone to use a vehicle seized as part of a criminal investigation was not necessarily a crime—provided the new driver did not claim ownership of the vehicle.
“I don’t think it is a crime, but only improper,” Mr. Sam Oeun said. “But if they take it as his own property, I think it is cheating. It is a crime.”
Mr. Mealaktei’s abrupt removal on February 17 immediately followed a speech by Prime Minister Hun Sen in which he suggested that a multimillion-dollar bribe led the court to reverse its decision to deny bail to the mother and father of Major General Thong Sarath, who was charged with coordinating the November murder of businessman Ung Meng Chue.
Maj. Gen. Sarath’s parents, Thong Chamroeun and Keo Sary, were charged with illegal weapons possession after raids on their family’s Phnom Penh villas in December.
The pair was arrested again on February 15 as they attempted to flee to Vietnam in an ambulance.
On Thursday, military police in Takeo province arrested provincial military police commander Pech Prum Mony, a close aide to Mr. Mealaktei.
At the time, National Military Police spokesman Kheng Tito said Brigadier General Prum Mony’s arrest was related to the release of Maj. Gen. Sarath’s parents.
A deputy prosecutor at the municipal court provisionally charged Brig. Gen. Prum Mony with interference in public functions and unauthorized use of vehicles with emblems of the police or military, Hong Vinol, head of the National Military Police’s information and security department, said on Friday.
Investigating Judge Long Kesphirum said Sunday that he had officially charged Brig. Gen. Prum Mony with the same crimes on Saturday.
Asked whether the charges were related to the release of Maj. Gen. Sarath’s parents, Mr. Kesphirum said, “I cannot tell you.”
(Additional reporting by Chris Mueller)