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KRT graft complaint killed on appeal

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Michiel Pestman (right), co-defence lawyer for Nuon Chea, speaks to reporters at the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh yesterday.

Lawers for Khmer Rouge Brother No 2 Nuon Chea expressed chagrin yesterday after they attempted to add new evidence to a criminal complaint filed in Cambodian courts concerning graft allegations at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, only to find that the case had been closed nearly two years ago.

The defence team also claimed yesterday that corruption at the tribunal was “as acute as ever”.

Nuon Chea’s attorneys wanted the Appeal Court to consider four diplomatic cables from the United States embassy in Phnom Penh, made public earlier this month by WikiLeaks.

Attorney Michiel Pestman said the “most compelling” new information was contained in a November 2008 dispatch claiming that Knut Rosandhaug, deputy director of administration for the Khmer Rouge
tribunal, knew of five witnesses who could give evidence in an alleged kickback scandal.

After meeting yesterday with Appeals Court prosecutor Tan Senarong, Pestman found out the case had been shut. “To our great surprise, we just found out that the case was closed on the 20th of October, 2009,” he said.

“We are disappointed. We were hoping they were at least going to give the impression that they were taking this seriously, but not even that.”

The defence lawyers had filed a complaint to Phnom Penh Municipal Court in 2009, calling for a criminal investigation into a corruption scandal at the tribunal, in which Cambodian staff were allegedly forced to pay kickbacks to their supervisors. The municipal court denied their request, and Nuon Chea’s attorneys appealed.

Tribunal administrator Sean Visoth, who was alleged to be at the centre of the issue, took leave of his post in 2008 and has not worked at the tribunal since. Nuon Chea’s lawyers pointed out in a letter submitted to the Appeal Court yesterday, however, that Sean Visoth “remains (nominally, at least) on leave from his official position”.

Pestman claimed that, based on information from “various sources”, the kickback scheme was “ongoing and the graft is as acute as ever”. He said the allegations deserved a proper criminal investigation.

“Corruption is a symptom in a sense of government interference. It’s a way to control the process. If you control people, you control the legal process, you control what happens at the tribunal,” he said. “It all fits in the same picture that there is no real independent court, and that what eventually will happen is not determined at the court but somewhere else. That’s our great worry.”

Clair Duffy, a trial monitor for the Open Society Justice Institute, said yesterday that the court should provide further information as to what steps it has taken to address the corruption allegations, and make public the results of any inquiries.

Appeal Court prosecutor -general Ouk Savuth declined to comment, saying there was a “shipload of cases” at the court. “I will check it out,” he said.

Tribunal spokesman Neth Pheaktra said that the claims about corruption were “just allegations”, which had already been addressed with the creation of the “independent counselor”. He said Nuon Chea’s team could submit their new evidence to it.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA

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