Outgoing Judge May Face Graft Charges, Says Justice Minister

Life got a little worse for outgoing Appeals Court President Ly Vuoch­leng on Monday, while Khmer Rouge tribunal Co-Inves­tigating Judge You Bun­leng—the man chosen to replace her—seem­ed ascendant.

Justice Minister Ang Vong Va­thana said Monday that a new in­vestigation into the Appeals Court’s release of two men convicted in the Chai Hour II hotel human trafficking case could see Ly Vuochleng—who oversaw the court at the time—being charged for taking bribes.

Speaking at Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh on Monday during the launch of the new criminal procedure code, which was signed into law on Aug 10, Prime Minister Hun Sen held up the Chai Hour II case as an example of the kind of justice Cambodian courts should not deliver. “The court must not rule like it did in the Chai Hour II case,” he said. “The Chai Hour II case is not finished yet.”

In December 2004, anti-trafficking police raided the Tuol Kok district hotel and sent 83 women and girls found inside to a shelter run by NGO Afesip. The next day, some 30 men forced open the gates of the shelter and removed the sex workers.

In February 2006, Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced hotel owner Te Pao Ly to five years in prison and hotel manager Som Le­ang to four years on trafficking-related charges.

The Appeals Court overturned those convictions, and both men were arrested again on new human trafficking charges in February of this year, prompting Hun Sen to call for an investigation into the Appeals Court decision.

Ang Vong Vathana said Ly Vu­ochleng was solely responsible for releasing the two men.

“There is only the Appeals Court president,” he said, adding: “Sam­dech [Hun Sen] said that she made a mistake by releasing the convicts.”

That mistake, he said Sunday, cost Ly Vuochleng her job.

An August 9 Royal Decree, a copy of which was obtained Monday, terminated Ly Vuoch­leng’s tenure as Appeals Court president, shifting her to an unspecified position at the Ministry of Justice.

The decree, signed by King No­rodom Sihamoni, promoted Ap­peals Court Judge and Extraor­dinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia Co-Investigating Judge You Bunleng to serve in her stead, effective immediately.

Ang Vong Vathana said it was not clear what position Ly Vuoch­leng might take up at the Justice Ministry. He added that she automatically lost her position on the Supreme Council of the Magistra­cy, which oversees the judiciary, when she was removed from the Appeals Court presidency. Her re­placement, he added, will assume her seat on the council.

Ang Vong Vathana said a fresh investigation is now underway to determine if Ly Vuochleng should face criminal charges of bribery over the release of the two men.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court Deputy Director Ke Sakhorn said Sunday that a Ministry of Interior investigation found that the Ap­peals Court had accepted $30,000 in exchange for exonerating the men.

Ly Vuochleng could not be reached for comment Monday.

Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kan­harith said Monday that the Su­preme Council of the Magistracy, which is charged with disciplining judicial officials, was investigating Ly Vuochleng’s case.

Sok Sam Oeun, the executive director of the Cambodian Defend­ers Project, said Ly Vuochleng should be replaced only if she is found guilty of corruption in a court of law. “I don’t support corrupt officials, but we need fair procedures,” he said.

SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann said he doubted that Ly Vuochleng was solely responsible for the alleged corruption in the Chai Hour II case. The Supreme Council of the Ma­gistracy, he said, “must investigate all judges involved in the case and punish them.”

Appeals Court Judge Thou Mony, who also serves as a trial chamber judge at the ECCC, said Sunday that he had written the verdict exonerating Te Pao Ly and Som Leang. He declined to comment Mon­day on whether all judges involved with the Chai Hour II case should be investigated. “I don’t want to re­spond. People have the right to say what they want. Let them say it,” he said before hanging up the phone.

Meanwhile, You Bunleng is be­ing treated like the president of the Appeals Court, though he re­main­ed mum Monday about how—and whether—he will fill that position while simultaneously working at the ECCC as a co-investigating judge.

He received an honorable welcome at Monday’s criminal procedure code launch. When he walk­ed into the hotel’s packed ballroom, judges and officials stood in greeting. He was introduced as “Mr Appeals Court Director,” and was mobbed by friends and admirers during a coffee break.

During a brief interview Mon­day, he said he was still working at the ECCC and had only learned of his Appeals Court promotion Fri­day. He promised to “discuss things with the foreign side [of the ECCC] so that things go smoothly.”

He added that he had not yet decided whether to step down from his position at the tribunal.

Marcel Lemonde, the ECCC’s French co-investigating judge, who has praised his good working relationship with You Bun­leng, on Monday declined to comment on his colleague’s new posting.

Peter Foster, the tribunal’s UN spokesman, said by e-mail: “We are concerned about this an­nouncement and are seeking official clarification from the relevant officials on the impact it might have on the work of the ECCC.”

The agreements that set up the ECCC contained explicit provisions to ensure the tenure of jud­ges. The 2003 agreement between the UN and the Cambodian government states that “co-investigating judges shall be appointed for the duration of the proceedings.” The 2004 law on the establishment of the ECCC similarly specifies: “Each Investi­gating Judge shall be appointed for the period of the investigation.”

The court’s co-investigating judges have only just begun their judicial work. It was not immediately clear whether You Bun­leng’s possible departure from the tribunal—if indeed he decides to step down—would be in violation of those principles or not.


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