Prosecutor Appeals Release of Illegal Fishermen in Kandal

A Kandal provincial court prosecutor has filed a complaint with the Court of Appeal against a local judge who released four Vietnamese nationals—without charges and at the request of the provincial governor—caught illegally fishing in Cambodia.

The four were caught fishing on a lake in Kandal’s Koh Thom district on September 23 when local authorities converged on a larger group of Vietnamese fishermen who had crossed the nearby border with Vietnam, but watched most escape.

Investigating Judge Y Manoka ordered the quartet’s release the following Tuesday without charges.

On Sunday, court prosecutor Lim Sokuntha said he had filed a complaint on Friday against the judge over the decision.

“I filed the complaint with the Appeal Court to find justice and to protect the public interest,” he said. “I think the four Vietnamese nationals should not have been freed because they crossed the border illegally to fish illegally in Khmer territory.”

Judge Manoka declined to comment, while officials at the Appeal Court could not be reached.

Provincial governor Mao Phirun said on Sunday that he asked for the release and ran through a trio of reasons why he did so. First, he said, was the need to protect Cambodians who similarly cross into Vietnam on a regular basis.

“If we take strong action against four Vietnamese nationals for entering to fish in Cambodia, the Vietnamese government will respond in the same way. That’s why I asked the court to release the four Vietnamese fishermen and let them return home,” he said.

Mr. Phirun said court officials also told him they lacked evidence to press charges against the fishermen after police set fire to the nets they were caught with, and that prosecuting them risked causing problems for local officials colluding with illegal fishermen.

“I think it’s no problem if we put four Vietnamese fishermen in jail, but some of our officials will also be involved because the offenders confessed to the court that our officials conspired with them,” he said.

The governor said he knew the officials letting the Vietnamese through, but had no interest in having them arrested and prosecuted.

“We have no need to open an investigation because we already know the officials working along the border who are responsible for letting the Vietnamese enter,” he said. “We will just educate them.”

Koh Thom district police chief Chhoeun Bunchhorn said he was “disappointed” about the recent release and confirmed that corrupt local officials sometimes urged him to turn a blind eye to Vietnamese nationals sneaking across the border to fish.

“There are some bad officials involved in fishing crimes who have come to me and tried to negotiate with me to let Khmer and Yuon fish in the lake because they already paid. But I refused and told them that we will take action to stop all illegal fishing,” he said, using an often derogatory word for Vietnamese people.

Mr. Bunchhorn said the seasonal flooding was making it easy for Vietnamese fishermen to cross the border by boat and that hundreds had been spotted in his district in the past few days.

“My police officials told me that they have seen almost 1,000 Vietnamese nationals fishing illegally in Koh Thom district,” he said. “We will take urgent action to stop the fishing crime after the Pchum Ben festival.”

The national holiday ends today.

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