Nearly a week after former Bavet town governor Chhouk Bandith was found guilty of the unintentional shooting of three garment workers and sentenced to 18 months in prison, police said yesterday that officers had been deployed to Mondulkiri province, where they believed him to be hiding out.
“He has escaped, but we heard he is in Mondulkiri and our officials are now trying to find him there,” National Police spokesperson Kirt Chantharith said.
According to Chantharith, the Ministry of Interior received a tip regarding his whereabouts and yesterday sent a directive to provincial police calling for his arrest.
Last Tuesday, the Svay Rieng Provincial Court issued a warrant for Bandith after finding the powerful local figure guilty of shooting three women during a protest at Puma supplier Kaoway Sports in 2012.
Later fingered by Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, Bandith nevertheless evaded detention and trial for almost 16 months while his case bounced within the court system, at one point being dropped altogether before the Appeal Court ordered him to be re-charged.
The sentence, which came amid intense international and local pressure, has been highly criticised by rights groups, which termed it a “slap on the wrist” in the light of the serious injuries he caused.
Meanwhile, though an arrest warrant was issued, little progress appears to have been made, rights monitors noted.
“In Chhouk Bandith’s case, the government, especially the Ministry of Interior, is not willing to arrest him. If [they were], it’s not difficult because even some who have fled the country have been arrested and put in jail,” senior Licadho investigator Am Sam Ath said.
Mondulkiri provincial police chief Nhem Vanny said he’d received the Ministry of Interior order and insisted they were carrying it our fully.
“I also ordered all my officers to find him,” he added.