Lawyers for former Military Police Deputy Chief of Staff Chea Ratha, who successfully defended her in August against charges that she ordered a brutal acid attack on a relative of her estranged lover, appealed to Cabinet Minister Sok An before trial seeking a favorable outcome, according to a letter obtained yesterday. Ms Ratha was acquitted in absentia on Aug 31 of charges she had ordered the May 2008 attack on Ya Soknim out of jealousy after Ms Soknim’s niece, the model In Solyda, fled a coercive relationship with Ms Ratha.
The Appeal Court today is scheduled to consider arguments by lawyers for Ms Soknim that Ms Ratha’s acquittal by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court be overturned.
Prime Minister Hun Sen in September also formed a 26-member task force to review suspected “irregularities” in court cases and in particular Ms Ratha’s acquittal, which angered police.
According to the Jan 14, 2009 letter, the defense for Ms Ratha wrote to Mr Sok An asking that the prosecution be made to drop charges.
“I would like to request that Your Excellency Deputy Prime Minister please intervene in the case at the court to drop the charges against my client,” said the letter, signed by defense attorney Keo Ya.
The Council of Ministers said yesterday that Mr Sok An had indeed received the request letter but had taken no action out of respect for the court’s independence.
Mr Ya confirmed that he had signed the letter but said it had been drafted by his co-counsel Nach Try.
“I only signed it and someone else sent it and there was no notification in return,” he said. “There was no notification or evidence to claim that there was an intervention,” he continued.
Mr Try also said he could not say whether the letter had had any influence on the court’s decision to exonerate Ms Ratha.
“Our letter to ask for his intervention may merely help to push the court to work hard in their investigation because it is a matter of law,” Mr Try said.
“Any intervention could not succeed if there was no evidence to back it up,” he added.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said that Mr Sok An had not interfered in any way.
“He did not take it into consideration because it is the court’s work,” he said of the request.
According to the letter, Ms Ratha, who denied taking part in the acid attack, faced charges including intentional killing, infringement of individual rights, illegal confinement and illegal use of a weapon.
Following Ms Ratha’s acquittal, family members played audio recordings, which they said captured Ms Ratha’s threats against the family. Police also openly expressed dismay at the court’s decision claiming it was the third time that the military police commander had faced allegations of involvement in acid attacks.
Uong Vibol, Ms Soknim’s husband, said yesterday that he had seen the letter to Mr Sok An several days after Ms Ratha’s acquittal and that the family had then sought an explanation from the Cabinet Minister.
“My brother met him [Mr Sok An] and he told my brother he was not involved, but he confirmed receiving the letter,” Mr Vibol said.
The family then placed advertisements in newspapers imploring Mr Hun Sen to help in the search for justice.
Both Judge Din Sivuthy, who heard the case at the municipal court, and court clerk Ou Kearan, said they were too busy to talk to a reporter about Ms Ratha’s acquittal.