The Svay Rieng Provincial Court has issued an arrest warrant for Bavet City penal police chief Sar Chantha in relation to the 2012 shooting of three garment workers, although authorities have yet to apprehend the officer, who has been continuing to show up for work, according to his boss.
Mr. Chantha has been convicted of illegal weapons possession in connection to the shooting during a garment worker protest that left the three women injured, though the officer has maintained that he was not present at the time of the incident.
Former Bavet City governor Chhouk Bundith was convicted in absentia of firing the shots that injured the workers and handed an 18-month jail sentence, but remains at large.
On Monday, provincial court prosecutor Hing Bunchea said Mr. Chantha was now officially wanted for arrest.
“The court has issued an arrest warrant for Sar Chantha, maybe in May, on the 10th,” he said. “There is no arrest yet.”
Asked about Mr. Bundith, the prosecutor said he still did not know the ex-governor’s whereabouts.
As for Mr. Chantha, his boss, Bavet City police chief Keo Kong, said he knew of the arrest warrant, but said the wanted officer had been coming into work every day, including Monday.
“He has not been arrested yet; he comes to work normally,” Mr. Kong said, declining to comment further.
Mr. Chantha could not be reached Monday, but said by telephone on Sunday that he remained a free man.
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, said be believed Mr. Chantha had nothing to do with the shooting and that he was being used as a smokescreen for Mr. Bundith, the true culprit.
“This is a game; they are just transferring the blame onto Sar Chantha,” he said. “Sar Chantha is one of the victims, because witnesses have said that he was absent when Chhouk Bundith shot at the workers.”
In the initial trial, the provincial court dropped its case of unintentional shooting against the ex-governor and charged Mr. Chantha with the shooting instead.
Amid public outcry, the Justice Ministry ordered the Appeal Court to reinvestigate the case. In a subsequent retrial at the provincial court, Mr. Bundith was convicted of unintentional shooting and Mr. Chantha of illegal weapons possession.
The Supreme Court upheld the convictions in December.
Mr. Bundith, who was named by numerous witnesses as the sole shooter but still remains free following the incident, has become a symbol of impunity for the well-connected under a court system widely seen as being corrupt and politicized.
(Additional reporting by Mech Dara)