Rights workers said this week they would attend the forthcoming corruption hearing against a cousin of Prime Minister Hun Sen, citing fears over judicial interference following an apparent attempt by the justice minister to have her case dropped.
Dy Proem, a businesswoman and Mr Hun Sen’s first cousin, stands accused of arranging for $30,000 to be paid to Seng Yean, the former deputy director-general of inspection at the Ministry of National Assembly-Senate Relations and Inspection. She was allegedly attempting to influence Mr Yean’s investigation of a long-running land dispute between 120 families in Phnom Penh’s Dangkao district and Huot Sarom, a local landowner.
Mr Yean was charged with allegedly accepting the bribe and both were tried Sept 22 at Phnom Penh Municipal Court. The presiding judge was unable to come to a verdict, and it was ruled that the case be reheard by multiple judges on Dec 29.
In a Sept 9 letter to Mr Hun Sen, Justice Minster Ang Vong Vathana apparently asked the premier to permit the case against Ms Proem to be dropped.
Mr Hun Sen returned the original letter on Sept 13, with a handwritten note in the margin declining to intervene.
“Let the court continue the proceeding,” he wrote.
Kao Ty, a lawyer for landowner Mr Sarom, said yesterday he had written to rights organizations asking them to monitor the hearing over concerns the case would not be fairly tried.
Am Sam Ath, senior investigator for rights group Licadho, said Tuesday that his organization would be attending the trial.
“We are wondering why the Justice Ministry, which has a duty in monitoring the judge and prosecutor to ensure justice in general, would write such a letter,” Mr Sam Ath said on Tuesday. “The [Justice] Minister is a member of the supreme council of magistracy. It looks very strange seeing him act like this.”
“This letter could have impact to the coming hearing on this case,” he added.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said his organization would also be monitoring the case. He expressed concern that the letter could signify an ingrained culture of judicial interference.
“The minister could not just have come to this conclusion without evidence of such things happening in the past,” he said. “It discloses something significant about how Cambodia’s justice system works.”
In order to deter others from attempting to sway the courts, the minister should be punished for sending the letter, said Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project.
“We must protect the independence of the judiciary,” he said. “Without an independent judiciary we cannot realize a true democracy.”
Mr Vong Vathana, his spokesman Bunyay Narin, and court officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.