Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court has handed down a life sentence to disgraced former anti-drug czar Moek Dara and fined him US$300,000 for conspiring with the criminals he was supposed to fight, court officials said yesterday.
Phann Vanrath, deputy prosecutor at Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court, said that the former secretary general for the National Anti-Drug Trafficking Department was found guilty of taking bribes and siphoning drugs from confiscation stockpiles.
“This verdict provides justice to the country, because drug trafficking has a serious effect on society,” Phann Vanrath said. “We had more than 100 witnesses testifying, and we have enough evidence from investigation of Moek Dara and [his partner Chea Leng’s] office.”
Chea Leng, the former Ministry of Interior anti-drug chief, was also sentenced to life in prison and fined $21,000 for his involvement in the corruption racket that was brought to the courts by the Anti-Corruption Unit in 2011.
A second accomplice, Morn Doeun, who escaped capture and remains a fugitive, was sentenced in absentia to 25 years in prison and a $34,000 fine.
Moek Dara and Chea Leng were arrested in January last year after being incriminated by the testimony of convicted ex-Banteay Meanchey provincial police chief Hun Hean and his deputy, Chheang Son, who both received 4-year prison sentences in November for collecting more than $100,000 in bribes from arrested drug offenders.
After the announcement of the verdict, Moek Dara was escorted out of the court tightly gripping a wad of documents and a book, and told the press that he could not accept the decision against him.
“I did not commit any crime like the accusation,” Moek Dara said. “I am wondering … it’s life imprisonment, sentencing me [as though] I am a mastermind in drug trafficking, but there is not even one pill of drug.”
Moek Dara has pleaded innocent to all the charges against him throughout proceedings.
“In my conscience, I would never have the idea to traffic drugs like this accusation,” he said, adding that he would consider an appeal.
Under Cambodian law, Moek Dara has one month in which to lodge an appeal with the Appeals Court in Phnom Penh.
Moek Dara’s defence lawyer, Ray Bunthoeun, told the press outside the court that the verdict was unjust and that he would discuss an appeal further.
“It’s a serious decision,” Ray Bunthoeun said. “Since the beginning of the hearing, the questioning of him has produced no evidence at all.”
Ray Bunthoeun was also outraged at the prison sentence.
“Duch [former S-21 prison chief responsible for executing more than 12,000 people] has been put in jail only 19 years, but Moek Dara was a good official ... and has been put in jail based on only testimony from a convict, with no real documents,” Ray Bunthoeun said.
Rights groups applauded the sentence as just and a good message to society.
Cambodian Centre for Human Rights court monitor Nop Vireak said the trial was an example for other officials to steer clear of corruption. “Moek Dara and Chea Leng used public institutions to commit gross corruption and were charged with these offences and sentenced like criminals,” he said.
However, while the sentencing of Moek Dara may be celebrated, the crackdown on corruption was far from comprehensive, Nop Vireak added. “It’s not a real law enforcement,” Nop Vireak said, because other conspiring witnesses who testified at court were not charged or sentenced.
Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court also confiscated two plots of land belonging to Moek Dara and the entirety of his known bank account, a sum of $87,000.