Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy dismissed ongoing efforts by the government to deal with court corruption as being “cosmetic,” saying the overhaul has more to do with political maneuvering inside the CPP than judicial reform.
Following accusations made by Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara of bribery within the municipal court system, Prime Minister Hun Sen 10 days ago ordered the rearrest of dozens of criminals allegedly released after paying off court officials.
Sam Rainsy suggested Sunday that Hun Sen’s actions are an attempt to take control of the courts and further insulate himself from potential opposition within his own party.
“This is a very dangerous political game being played within the CPP,” Sam Rainsy said.
A senior CPP official on Sunday downplayed any sort of interparty fighting, but acknowledged that there is some disagreement between Hun Sen and other top party members, including Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, on how to reform the courts.
According to the official, Sar Kheng supports the rearrests but also feels court reform should be made by the Supreme Council of the Magistracy.
“It should not come from the government directly,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Sar Kheng couldn’t be reached for comment.
Chea Sophara on Sunday denied Sam Rainsy’s claims that both he and Hun Sen are motivated by a split inside the CPP.
“This is not related to any parties. This is not political,” Chea Sophara said. “The issue here is the safety of the people.”
He reiterated that the move to rearrest criminals has widespread support around the country. A total of 50 people have been rearrested since Hun Sen’s order was given a little over a week ago.
The court’s two top officials also have been suspended pending the outcome of an investigation into the alleged $311,000 in bribes taken by seven court officers in at least 20 high-profile cases.
The crackdown has been praised by some, including Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who see it as a decisive move against the country’s notoriously corrupt court system. But Hun Sen has also been widely criticized by others claiming his interference with the judiciary is procedurally wrong and threatens the independence of the courts.
This is the second time recently the government has come under fire for superseding the judicial process. Several months ago government officials were accused of ignoring judicial independence when they deported hundreds of illegal Chinese immigrants without first sending them to trial for breaking Cambodia’s immigration laws.
Like several legal experts, Sam Rainsy said judicial reform should come at the hands of the Supreme Council of the Magistracy rather than through the government.
But the Council, which has now met only twice since forming several years ago, has been branded as an ineffective body, and Hun Sen’s defenders have pointed out the need for a quick solution to Cambodia’s court problems.