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General faces charges

Brigadier General Samith Virak has been charged with a raft of offences including forming an armed force illegally and trafficking weapons, military police officials said today.

Kheng Tyto, spokesman for the national military police, said Samith Virak had been charged with destroying forested land, forging documents, faking a military ranking, forming an illegal armed force, trafficking weapons and possession of counterfeit money including euros, United States dollars and Kuwaiti dinars.

“He faces six separate charges, and the investigating judge is investigating further offences,” Kheng Tyto said, declining to provide circumstantial information about the case.

The charge of forming an illegal armed force alone carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison under the Kingdom’s new penal code.

Samith Virak was arrested at his villa in Phnom Penh last week, where police reportedly confiscated five illegal weapons including an AK-47 rifle.

An associate of Samith Virak, Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Lieutenant Colonel Peuy Pel, was arrested on the general’s land in Siem Reap province last week and is also under investigation.

“Peuy Pel is the right-hand man of Samith Virak, and he is being investigated by the court as well,” Kheng Tyto said.

Military court prosecutor Mok  Seyha declined to comment in detail about the case.

“I have charged [Samith Virak] and I am investigating to file possible further charges against him and his subordinates,” Mok Seyha said.

Kheng Tyto said four men were arrested in connection with the case on Saturday in Takeo province’s Tram Kak district, two of whom were later released and two of whom were sent for questioning in Phnom Penh.

A weapon and ammunition were confiscated at the scene of the arrest, Kheng Tyto said.

“These two men are related to the case of Samith Virak. They are all connected, and they may have been planning an attack [against the government],” he said.

Sao Sokha, the national military police commander, said last week that Samith Virak was arrested in September 2001 on suspicion of involvement with a group called the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, which staged an armed terrorist attack in 2000 on the Ministry of Defence and the Council of Ministers.

He was released on bail in 2002, however, and his case was never brought to trial.

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

Prum Sornthon, chief prosecutor of the military court, said last week that he could not remember why Samith Virak had not been brought to trial in 2002. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SAM RITH



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