Ly Kimseng, the wife of war crimes suspect Nuon Chea, said Wednesday that the family of fellow Khmer Rouge tribunal detainee Ieng Sary told her to leave the Pailin town home that she had shared with her husband for 10 years. The house may now be for sale, Ly Kimseng said. Family members of Ieng Sary, the one-time Khmer Rouge foreign minister, were unavailable for comment while Ang Udom, a lawyer for Ieng Sary, said he was unaware of the matter and declined to comment further.
“Ieng Sary’s daughter Ieng Meat told me to move out,” Ly Kimseng said by telephone from Pailin, adding that she was now staying with her son at her daughter’s house nearby her former home.
“I left my wooden house in Phsar Prum village a month ago…this wooden house was left to me and my husband by His Excellency Ieng Sary for ten years,” she said.
“I understand the wooden house that Ieng Sary’s daughter wanted to take back is for sale. But Ieng Sary’s daughter won’t sell to my family because my family wanted to buy from her, too,” she added.
An adjacent house, which once belonged to former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan, and which is in the same compound as Nuon Chea’s former home, was sold several months before Khieu Samphan’s arrest in November 2007 for about $8,000, Ly Kimseng said.
Lim Kea, who was recently hired to tend to the former Khieu Samphan house, said on Wednesday that the house and surrounding half-hectare lot had been purchased most recently by a local resident of Pailin, Te Muy Kim.
According to Lim Kea, the tattered wooden houses, situated on a common lot beside the Thai border in Sala Krao district’s Stung Kach commune, had been built on the land about 20 years ago by Ieng Sary. Both Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea moved into the Pailin compound following their surrender to the government in December 1998.
Ieng Sary had defected to the government two years earlier, spending his time between Pailin and a lavish villa in Phnom Penh, which he shared with his wife, fellow Khmer Rouge tribunal detainee Ieng Thirith, and Pol Pot’s first wife Khieu Ponnary who died in 2003.
Te Muy Kim said Tuesday that she had purchased the Khieu Samphan house for $28 per square meter and hoped to sell it for $40 per square meter. She said that she had had few calls from prospective buyers since the start of the recent Preah Vihear border standoff.
“I wish to sell my land to pay debts, but we will see,” she said.
Following their arrests last year, the Khmer Rouge tribunal declared that all five of the court’s current detainees were too poor to pay for their legal representation, which is considerably expensive. The tribunal’s current budget estimates that the defense of each Khmer Rouge detainee will have cost about $890,000 by the end of next year.
Richard Rodgers, acting head of the Defense Support Section, said Wednesday that if the Khmer Rouge detainees’ assets were to grow, their status as indigent defendants could be revised.
“If there were a significant change of financial circumstances, then it could be reviewed,” he said. “If we’re talking about $8,000, that wouldn’t make any difference in their status.”
The defendant’s primary residence, and the assets of family members, are both excluded from the assessment of personal finances, to avoid imposing hardship on families and to protect the presumption of innocence, he added.
“Someone should not be forced to sell their home to pay for a trial in which they may be acquitted,” Rodgers said.
Following last year’s arrests of regime suspects, the tribunal attempted to verify press reports, public statements and rumors that the Khmer Rouge detainees were very wealthy, he added.
None of those asked to back up their claims that the suspects were rich came forward to do so, Rodgers said, adding that the court’s assessment of the detainees’ wealth had also involved enquiries with local cadastral authorities and research conducted by tribunal judicial officers.
“We didn’t receive anything that allowed us to conclude that they had enough money to pay for their defense,” Rodgers said.
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)