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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - $30,000 freedom letter silenced in court

$30,000 freedom letter silenced in court

T HREE Africans jailed for trafficking heroin late last month had earlier been

given a letter while they were in T3 prison from a police agent, urging them to

pay $30,000 to buy their freedom.

The court refused permission to have

the letter read out during their second trial.

The letter written by

African police agent "Adam" - a former UNTAC soldier - said he had talked to the

"big boss in the court" who would free them if they could pay.

Defender

Sok Sam Oeun, who represented one of the accused, Nigerian Solomon Okeke, was

not allowed to read the letter by Municipal Court chief judge Oum Sarith - who

was also the trial judge - because it was "not necessary".

Sam Oeun had

previously introduced the letter during the African's first trial in May,

however Judge Sarith suspended that trial mid-way to re-examine the evidence.

"Adam", along with "Michael" (real name Samuel Bukgue), helped set up

the sting operation that nabbed Okeke, Ndele Kundenga from Zaire and Ghanaian

Harry Thomas.

The three Africans were in the house for only a matter of

minutes before police arrived. Around eleven grams of heroin was found in

"Michael's" bedroom. More than 30 grams of white powder found in the house that

was thought to have been heroin was tested by the US Embassy and found not to be

heroin.

There was no money found during the raid.

Sam Oeun

maintained that the three were tricked into the house. It was a set-up to later

extort money, he argued.

Thomas said he had been living at "Michael's"

house for three weeks; that he knew neither Okeke or Kundenga; that he had been

asleep in a bedroom when the police came; and that he had been forced to sign a

police statement.

Kundenga said he had been staying in Phnom Penh with

Okeke and the pair accepted an invitation from "Michael" to visit his

house.

Okeke, who lives in Bangkok and said he came to Phnom Penh to

renew his Thai visa, said he only accepted "Michael's" invitation to visit

"because he was black".

Okeke strongly protested his innocence, saying

that if he was indeed a drug trafficker he would not have opened the door for

the police.

He asked the judge why, if he was a trafficker, was it

necessary for "Michael" to lure him to the house. "Why couldn't Michael inform

the police of any illegal activities and the police come to arrest me in my

hotel?"

Prosecutor Yeth Chariya said "these black foreigners" used

Cambodia as a base to export drugs. Chariya, who continually referred to the

three as "black criminals", said they represented a great threat to the national

security of Cambodia.

Okeke, given the last word, criticized democracy in

Cambodia, saying that true democracy meant freeing people if there was

insufficient evidence.

Sarith then convicted and sentenced the three:

five years each to Thomas and Kundenga, and ten years for Okeke "whose high

skill... threatened national security."

The Post understands that an

appeal will be lodged.

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