The Interior Ministry’s general department of prisons yesterday cleared Ratanakkiri Provincial Prison chief Ngin Nel of any wrongdoing after he allowed a convicted former provincial police chief to leave prison and attend an ethnic Kreung festival without the permission of prosecutors.
Yoeung Baloung, currently serving 13 years in jail for his role in an illegal logging operation, was in a pickup truck that crashed into a motorbike in O’Chum district on Jan 15 not long after the inmate had been granted a two-hour leave of absence by Mr Nel.
The three men on the motorbike suffered broken legs and were treated in a Vietnamese hospital. While witnesses at the crash scene told the human rights group Adhoc that Mr Baloung was driving by himself at the time of the crash, provincial police concluded that the inmate’s nephew was driving with three passengers—Mr Baloung, his wife and a prison guard.
Liv Mauv, deputy director-general for prisons, said yesterday that a weeklong investigation had found that Mr Nel followed proper procedures when he allowed Mr Baloung to leave prison.
“I speak on behalf of the general department of prisons to state that we found Mr Nel not guilty [of any wrongdoing],” Mr Mauv said, adding that Mr Nel had followed the Interior Ministry regulations by calling provincial deputy governor Sok Nak to gain permission.
According to Mr Mauv, ministry regulations say prison directors can let inmates leave prison if given permission by a prosecutor or a provincial governor. A copy of the relevant regulations could not be obtained yesterday.
Mr Mauv said people should “admire” Mr Nel and his deputy Lath Loeuy for following the regulations, especially seeing as Mr Nel was on holiday on the day in question.
While Mr Nel could not be reached yesterday, Mr Nak said he applauded the prisons department findings.
“I am by his side because Mr Nel, and his deputy did not grant leave for the inmate…for a promised gift or bribe,” he said.
But Mr Nak also said that he did not believe any regulations allowed governors like himself to grant leave for inmates.
Community Legal Education Center lawyer Yin Savath agreed, saying that decisions to grant prisoners leave from prison must be made by a judicial officer.
“He is a convicted inmate. Permission for him to leave must be made in a written letter required by law. And the decision must be made by the court rather then provincial governors,” Mr Savath said.
“Although there was a prison guard reportedly sent to guard this inmate, the case still proves the prison’s carelessness. This inmate is…in prison for serious crimes, and he was formerly provincial police chief—a powerful position.
“There should have been more prison guards and police to drive the car and guard him. It is a bad example for prisons nationwide because of these bad practices.”
Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for the human rights group Adhoc, said yesterday that it did not make sense that a prisoner could be granted leave without generating written records.
“Written letters would clearly show the date of issuance orders to prove the leave was granted …legally,” Mr Bonnar said. “It is easy to recreate a scene when [evidence] is just based on verbal communication by telephone.”