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Crashing the party

Officials said today they are investigating reports that the jailed former police chief of Ratanakkiri province seriously injured three people in a drink-driving crash on Friday night, after he was released from prison to attend a party.

Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said today that Yoeung Baloung – who was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2006 after being convicted of involvement in an illegal logging ring – was released from Ratanakkiri provincial prison on Friday so he could attend a party in O’Chum district.

While driving “home” from the party, Pen Bonnar said, Yoeung Baloung drunkenly crashed into three people on a motorbike who were seriously injured and rushed to a hospital in Vietnam for treatment.

“We are sure that the offender in the car accident was Yoeung Baloung because we have witnesses who know and confirmed that it was him at the scene,” Pen Bonnar said.

He  added that it was not the first time Yoeung Baloung had been released from prison for social activities.

Pen Bonnar alleged that Yoeung Baloung had been released and returned to the prison “many times” in the past, though he said he did not have hard evidence to support this claim.

He also alleged that Yoeung Baloung was afforded “special conditions, better than other prisoners”, including accommodation in a “small wooden house” on the prison grounds.

Pen Bonnar said he planned to submit a complaint about the case to the Ministry of Interior and Anticorruption Unit today.

“It is corruption that a prison warden set Yeoung Baloung free to go sightseeing or join any party,” he said.

Deputy provincial police chief Dam Moukeo, said today there had been a car accident in O’Chum district on Friday night, but denied Yoeung Baloung was involved.

According to a report filed by traffic police, Dam Moukeo said, the “offender” involved in the accident was Katreng Lounh, Yoeung Baloung’s 33-year-old nephew-in-law.

“It was not Yoeung Baloung in the car accident because he is in prison,” Dam Moukeo said.

Heng Hak, director general of the Department of Prisons at the Ministry of Interior, said today he had sent an official to investigate the case.

He said prison officials had reported to him that Yoeung Baloung was seriously ill and had been involved in a car accident after being temporarily released from prison at the request of his family who wanted him to participate in a healing ceremony.

Either way, he said, letting a convict out of the prison was “against legal procedure”. “The convict [should not be] released on bail unless there is decision from the judge,” he said.

Provincial prison director Ngen Nel could not be reached for comment.

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