Former anti-drug czar Moek Dara (C), who was sentenced to life in prison last year for a string of drug-related corruption offences, at the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh yesterday. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post
Disgraced anti-drug czar Moek Dara’s appeal against his life sentence for convictions in 25 separate cases of bribery and masterminding a criminal enterprise began yesterday morning in Phnom Penh.
Co-accused, former Ministry of Interior anti-drug police department chief Chea Leng also appeared at the Court of Appeal; however, Morn Doeun, a former low-level police official at the National Authority for Combating Drugs, remains a fugitive.
Appeal Court President Chay Chandaravann emphasised the magnitude of the cumulative convictions against the trio handed down by Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court in January after one of Cambodia’s largest and most complex criminal hearings.
“Moek Dara, Chea Leng and Morn Doeun are facing charges associated with 25 cases. To conduct their appeal hearings, the Court of Appeal will take five days,” Chandaravann announced.
Dara and his convicted co-conspirators were originally stung on charges associated with 38 cases, but Banteay Meanchey judges dropped 13 of those last year for lack of evidence.
Yesterday’s four-hour appeal hearing concentrated on one of the most high-profile of the 25 cases against Dara, concerning a pilfered drug-raid cache from the Naga casino boat in 2007.
The court of first instance found Leng guilty of doctoring his police report and keeping four of the five-plus kilograms of heroin confiscated during the raid, as well as a Honda sedan, US$9,000 cash and an unspecified amount of jewellery.
Dara was convicted for signing off on the fraud.
“Later, [Leng] sold the drugs seized worth about $50,000 to one of the subordinates,” the judge added.
The pair vehemently disputed the lower court’s findings.
“There were only three boxes consisting of about one kilogram of heroin which were seized by my anti-police forces at the Naga ship,” Leng protested. “I absolutely deny this charge.”
The 56-year-old Dara said Leng had reported to him that there was only about one kilogram of heroin seized.
“And I accepted that I had signed on his accurate report in sending it to the court. But, I did not properly read or check it because he was very busy,” he said. “I was not aware or involved with Chea Leng’s activities. If I was aware or had been involved with him, I would be swallowed by the earth for 1,000 births,” he added solemnly.
Dara’s defence lawyer, May Vannady, slammed the appeal hearing as neither open nor fair as no important witnesses had been called to attend the appeal hearings.
“The Appeal Court has strictly prohibited media or journalists from recording or taking photos during the court’s hearing, but it has allowed the Anti-Corruption Unit to record and take pictures during the hearing,” he said, referring to the unusual filming of proceedings by the ACU.
Speaking by phone yesterday, Doeun’s lawyer, Kea Eav, said he knew the whereabouts of his client, but would not reveal the fugitive’s location to the police.
“If the court had only charged him with bribery, maybe that is acceptable, but he is not part of a criminal enterprise as accused. He is just a low-level official with no power to form an enterprise,” Eav said.
The appeal hearing continues today.
To contact the reporter on this story: Buth Reaksmey Kongkea at firstname.lastname@example.org