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General also charged in ’01 weapons case

A BRIGADIER general arrested this week for possessing illegal weapons faced similar charges in 2001 but was never brought to trial, national military police commander Sao Sokha said yesterday.

Samith Virak, deputy director of the materials and technology department at the defence ministry, was arrested at his home on Monday. Police at the scene said he was under investigation for “other issues” in addition to the weapons charge, but declined to elaborate.

Sao Sokha said yesterday that Samith Virak was also arrested in September 2001 on suspicion of involvement with a group called the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, which staged a terrorist attack in 2000 in Phnom Penh, firing guns and rockets at the Ministry of Defence and the Council of Ministers.

While the CFF link was never substantiated in court, Sao Sokha said Samith Virak had been charged with illegal detention, possession of illegal weapons and illegally possessing a military uniform before being released on bail by the military court in January 2002.

Sao Sokha said he was unsure of why the case was never brought to trial, or why Samith Virak was able to secure a government position despite the charges against him.

“We are investigating to find out who allowed this man to get a position at the Ministry of Defence,” Sao Sokha said, adding that police were also investigating “whether this man trafficked weapons or created any illegal movements or insecurity in the country”.

Ney Thol, head of the military court, declined to comment both on the current case and on why Samith Virak never faced trial following his 2001 arrest.

“I can’t say anything about it now because the investigation is ongoing,” Ney Thol said.

Sao Sokha said “Samith Virak” was an alias, and that the suspect’s real name was Pich Thoeun. Police confiscated 12 illegal firearms from the general’s office and five from his house, Sao Sokha added.

Chhun Yasith, the Cambodian-American leader of the CFF, received a life sentence in a US court last year for his involvement in the 2000 attack.

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