A judge in Mondolkiri province has released two men who allegedly accrued hundreds of thousands of dollars by selling land they did not own, while a police official said the case had now been compromised because the pair had run away.
Theat Sary, 58, and Keo Vuthy, 33, were arrested on Friday and subsequently charged with fraud after reportedly “selling” plots of state-owned land in Koh Nhek district to 251 families for sums ranging from $500 to $1,500.
Investigating Judge Soeun Kosalmony said on Wednesday, however, that he had released Mr. Sary and Mr. Vuthy on Monday because there was not enough evidence linking them to the crime, which would have netted them at least $125,500.
“I released the pair because there was not enough evidence to detain them,” said the judge, declining to answer further questions.
Deputy provincial police chief Sou Sovan, who last week said the pair had confessed to the fraud, said police had heard a different story from the judge when they inquired about the case.
“I called the investigating judge and asked him about the release, but he told me the two offenders were put under court supervision, because the court needed time to collect more evidence,” Mr. Sovan said.
Upon their release, he said, the men promptly left Mondolkiri, thwarting plans by police to continue questioning them.
“We authorities are not happy about the release, because we worked hard to arrest the offenders, and then the court released them,” Mr. Sovan said.
“But this is a decision of the judge, and we are not able to oppose it,” he said, adding that deputy prosecutor Chea Sovantheth had challenged Judge Kosalmony’s decision in a complaint lodged with the Appeal Court.
Provincial court spokesman So Sovichea confirmed that Mr. Sovantheth had filed an appeal.
Kosh Sen, a Cham Muslim who claims he gave $1,100 to Mr. Sary and Mr. Vuthy for a 50-by-1,000-meter plot, said news of the men’s release was disappointing.
“It’s not only me. Everyone who lost land is also unhappy about the release of the two people,” he said. “Keo Vuthy and Theat Sary told us they had a permission letter from authorities letting people live on the land, and we believed them.”
“But the letter was fake.”