Phnom Penh Municipal Police should be charged for illegally arresting and detaining two women as part of their high-profile crackdown on court corruption last month, a court prosecutor said Tuesday.
Heng Kimleang, 33, and a second woman, Chan Dina, 31, were arrested without warrant on March 2 on allegations of bribing Phnom Penh court officials to release suspected criminals, according to Yam Yet, chief prosecutor of Battambang Provincial Court.
Yam Yet, who has been appointed to investigate the corruption case against two Phnom Penh judges and two deputy prosecutors, said the two women were detained without charge at the Phnom Penh Municipal Police headquarters.
Police, however, said Tuesday that the prosecutor’s allegations were retaliation for their crackdown on court officials.
In the course of his investigation, Yam Yet said: “I found out these two people were being detained illegally.”
“If there [was] illegal detention in my territory, the police officials would be charged and sent to the court,” he added.
But, he said, he could not take action against the Phnom Penh police because it was outside his jurisdiction.
He said he has written letters to the Ministry of Justice, the Council of Ministers, the Appeals Court, as well as Phnom Penh Municipal Court Prosecutor Ouk Savouth, urging the Municipal Court to take action against the police.
While Chan Dina has since been released, Heng Kimleang remains detained without charge in Phnom Penh police custody, Yam Yet said.
Repeated calls to Ouk Savouth went unanswered Tuesday, but one of his clerks, who spoke on condition of anonymity, acknowledged the police’s conduct in the case was “abnormal.”
Phnom Penh Municipal Police Commissioner Heng Pov, who coordinated the case against the four Phnom Penh court officials, dismissed accusations that his force illegally detained the two women. He said such allegations were made to exact “revenge” against the police.
“The case is out of my hands because I have passed it on to the Ministry of Justice to take over these people, and the Ministry of Justice has passed this on to the Battambang court,” Heng Pov said on Tuesday. “Everything is under the Ministry of Justice.”
He added: “I want to laugh when they say I illegally detained a person…. Anyone who takes part in this [accusation against the police], they have no intention to take part in judicial reform.”
Asked whether Phnom Penh police would be reprimanded for the alleged illegal detentions, Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana said Tuesday: “If they are wrong, I will ask the prosecutor to charge them.”
But, he said, “If there are no [arrest warrant] documents, [we] must solve the problem based on the law.”
Heng Kimleang was arrested while visiting her brother, who had been rearrested by Phnom Penh police on accusations of being one of the criminal suspects the four court officials allegedly released, according to Heng Kimleang’s father, Heng Phon.
She had told police that her brother was not involved with any crime and that the Phnom Penh court only agreed to release him after the family paid court officials $1,700, Heng Phon said.
Her arrest was based on the information that she provided to police, he said.
“My daughter did not pay off [the bribe] by herself, but court officials demanded it in exchange to release her brother,” Heng Phon said.
He added that he launched a complaint against the police with prosecutor Ouk Savouth on Tuesday.
According to a copy of a Ministry of Interior report to Prime Minister Hun Sen, Heng Kimleang was reported to have paid $700 to a man identified as “Meng,” a clerk of Phnom Penh Judge Ham Mengse, and another $700 to “Sak Ny,” a clerk of Judge Heng Thirith.
The Ministry of Interior report, dated March 4 and signed by co-ministers Sar Kheng and Prince Norodom Sirivudh, alleged that she paid another $600 to other court officials in exchange for having her brother, Heng Yuthy, released on March 16, 2004.
Heng Kimleang’s lawyer, Hong Kimsuon, said he spent more than two days looking for his client at the various municipal police offices and prisons because police declined to reveal where she was being detained.
Hong Kimsuon said he eventually met with Heng Kimleang once on March 28 at the Phnom Penh Municipal Police headquarters, but police would not allow him to take any notes about the meeting, or ask any questions.
“The detention is completely wrong,” he said.