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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Barristers pounce on 'illegal' visa office

Barristers pounce on 'illegal' visa office

A visa center near the US Embassy operated by two Americans was raided by local authorities

on November 25, who confiscated stamps, bank records and passports.

Nolan Stringfield and Wayne Weightman are being sued by the Cambodian Bar Association

(CBA) for $50,000 each for allegedly opening an illegal private law office. They

have worked in Cambodia for several years.

"The Bar sued them because they opened an illegal law office and did not register

with the Bar Association" said Ky Tech, president of the CBA. He said the pair

could face up to six months in prison.

The office has denied the allegations and maintains the charges are unfounded since

the firm, which offers visa advice, is not a law practice and does not require a

legal degree to operate. Internationally, visa assistance does not generally require

such qualifications, though Stringfield said he is Bar-certified in the US.

After being sued by the CBA, Stringfield said he took all necessary steps to bring

the practice in line with the association's demands, including handing over the business

to a Khmer lawyer, temporarily closing the visa center and registering with the CBA

on October 2. That should have resolved the problem, said Stringfield's lawyer, Son

Arun.

But several days after the Khmer lawyer who took over the center left for medical

treatment in the US, police raided the office.

Tech said the CBA had rejected the request by the lawyer, Bit Seang Lim, to oversee

the business due to the pending lawsuit.

However, Stringfield said he has stamped documents indicating CBA's approval for

the transfer of his office to Seang Lim. Stringfield's lawyer said the courts did

not follow proper legal procedures.

The crackdown is the latest in a series of legal actions brought against firms with

foreign lawyers in recent years. To practice law in Cambodia, foreign lawyers must

join the CBA or work with a certified Cambodian lawyer.

Since January 2000, the CBA has sued at least four foreign law offices, as well as

one Khmer lawyer, for practicing law illegally.

CTI, DFDL, Imtec International Consulting Cambodia, Tilleke & Gibbins and Associates

and Long Bora Law Office are all named in the suits.

The Post is aware that at least one case against Tilleke and Gibbins was dismissed

by the court.

Chiv Songhak, board member of the Bar Association and director of the Cambodia International

Law Firm, said the recent raid occurred because it was allegedly linked to an "urgent

investigation" by the Municipal Court.

Horm Mengse, the investigating judge in the case, told the Post on November 26 that

he was proceeding with the case carefully "because it related to the foreigners

that make business in Cambodia".

"We invited them for questioning, but they declared they had not opened an illegal

law office, they just ran a visa center," he said.

This year, the CBA also disbarred a prominent Khmer-American lawyer in a meeting

of its special assembly on June 19. The CBA found that David Chanaiwa illegally advertised

his service over email. His logo, which features a tilted scales of justice, was

also ruled to be biased against the legal system.

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