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Judges urged to hasten trials of drug traffickers

Speaking at an interministerial meeting on the confiscation of assets, Justice Ministry Secretary of State Koeut Rith on Tuesday elaborated on the justice minister’s call to speed up trials of drug traffickers, adding a reminder to officers that with stepped-up asset seizures came added responsibility.

According to a transcript of Rith’s remarks, first published by Fresh News and later confirmed by Rith yesterday, he repeated the Justice Ministry’s calls for judges handling drug trafficking cases to fast-track trials of drug traffickers. Rith also advocated better record-keeping for seized assets, by “impounding properly the property intercepted and making a record or clearly making a list of inventory”. He also reminded law enforcement officials that they could face prosecution for stealing confiscated assets.

Addressing prosecutors, Rith urged them to “accelerate procedural action in the criminal cases relating to drugs and the seizure of property resulting from drug cases as well”.

At a conference on Monday, Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana had asked court officials to accelerate trials of drug traffickers so the state could more quickly seize their assets. While Vong Vathana implied that profits from the sale of these assets could be used to fund the construction of rehabilitation facilities for recovering drug users, previous statements by law enforcement officials suggest another aim.

In July, Interior Minister Sar Kheng announced that $1 million raised through the sale of assets confiscated during the first six months of Cambodia’s anti-drug campaign would be set aside to reward officers involved in future busts. Earlier, in March, Ke Kim Yan, the head of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, said police officials who seized more than 1 kilogram in illegal narcotics would receive $10,000.

Duch Piseth, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights’s director of advocacy, said that as long as assets seized have a direct link to criminal activity and seizures are made lawfully, the government “confiscating property or assets resulted from criminal crimes is a right policy when it comes to generating more state revenue”. However, he added, rather than using profits from the sale of these assets to fund rewards, proceeds should go towards paying for promotions.

Independent drug expert David Harding, meanwhile, expressed alarm over fast-tracking of trials for drug traffickers, saying the same standards should apply for all crimes. Rushing trials, he said, “implies guilt . . . You can’t rush the rule of law”.

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