Two Months After Sentencing, Chhouk Bundith Still at Large

Former Bavet City governor Chhouk Bundith, who was convicted in June of shooting into a crowd of protesters and injuring three garment workers, is still at large avoiding an 18-month prison sentence, the national police spokesman said Wednesday.

“We have ordered all of our authorities to find and arrest him, and all our city and provincial authorities are looking for him,” said national police spokesman Lieutenant General Kirth Chantharith without offering a reason as to why Chhouk Bundith’s whereabouts is so difficult to trace.

Rights groups have said that the failure to arrest Chhouk Bundith is proof of rampant impunity and a corrupt court system.

The shooting occurred in February 2012 at a special economic zone in Bavet City, and in April 2012, Chhouk Bundith was charged with the “unintentional” shooting of the three women.

However, the Svay Rieng Provincial Court, without explanation, dropped all charges against Chhouk Bundith in December. Instead, the court charged Bavet City police officer Sar Chantha with the shooting. Mr. Chantha has proclaimed his innocence repeatedly, saying that he was not even armed on the day of the protest.

Amid intense public interest in the case, the Appeal Court announced in January that it was carrying out a re-investigation of Chhouk Bundith on the orders of Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana.

When a retrial at the provincial court was eventually ordered, Chhouk Bundith failed to show up and was convicted of unintentionally shooting the women.

Svay Rieng Provincial Court prosecutor Hing Bunchea said Wednesday that he had no idea of Chhouk Bundith’s whereabouts, but that border police had been informed to remain vigilant at the country’s international border checkpoints.

“If he leaves by unofficial checkpoint, then we cannot know,” Mr. Bunchea said.

Chin Lyda, the lawyer representing the three victims—who last month filed an appeal with the court to be granted more than the total of $9,500 in compensation that was originally ruled—said he had asked the authorities to bring the wanted ex-governor in.

Mr. Chantha’s lawyer, Mon Keosivin, said that his client had decided to appeal the charge of illegal possession of a weapon that was leveled against him.

“I think that this is being staged by the government, because if they wanted to arrest Chhouk Bundith, they could arrest him,” Mr. Keosivin said.

Chhouk Bundith’s lawyer, Sun Bunnarith, said his client had appealed his conviction, but would not comment further.

Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor of rights group Adhoc, said the failure to arrest Chhouk Bundith meant he had likely already fled the country.

“I believe this provided him with a chance to escape,” he said.

“[The court] never had the intention to arrest him. I think powerful people are still seen as innocent in Cambodia,” Mr. Sam Ath said.

“If they’d had the intention to arrest him, they would have.”

© 2013, All rights reserved.