A CCUSATIONS of impropriety have been leveled against human rights NGOs who have been attempting to defend the Nguon Nonn case in court.
Nonn wrote a letter from PJ prison on Aug 1 requesting: "Since I notice that Charto are very busy ... I would like Adhoc and Licadho to take over the defense of my case."
The UN Center for Human Rights heard about Nonn's change of heart and organized a meeting at the Center to try to broker a reconciliation between Nonn and Charto, according to Information Officer Kyle Gillespie .
He said the UN center was concerned about a change in defenders two days before the scheduled trial while also respecting Nonn's wish to change defenders.
The meeting at the UN center become heated after Nonn's son Norind Lakshmy said Charto had sent two men to the Nonn family house on two occasions to collect $50 and then $100 in legal fees.
Lakshmy also said at the meeting that the Charto Chairman defender Nou Tepirith had come to the house and asked Lakshmy for his mobile phone, and made a further request for a $500 payment if Nonn was released after the second trial.
Charto director Choun Mun Thol told the Post: "Charto's policy is to provide legal defense to clients free of charge.
"Charto receives about $50,000 in aid per six months from The Asia Foundation and the UN center to pay the salaries of our eight legal defenders and meet office and travel expenses."
Gillespie said: "While not explicit, it was an implicit policy of the UN center to give aid to human rights NGOs on an understanding that they would not chaxrge people for their legal defense services.
"The UN center has received reports of NGOs charging people for legal defense services."
In and interview with the Post Tepirith denied the accusations Lakshmy had leveled against him at the UN center.
He said: "I did send two people to Nonn's house but it was merely to collect records to help me prepare for the trial. I trust their honesty and I do not believe they asked for or took any money from Lakshmy.
"I asked Lakshmy if I could borrow his mobile phone during the trial period to help me prepare the case. His house was a long way from my office and we have no phone."
"I have been conscientious and spent much time preparing the case, and I have been to prison six times since the first trial to see Nonn to help prepare the case."
Tepirith also denied requesting the $500 payment. He added: "Between July 1993 and May this year I worked as a defender and received no salary. But I was able to support myself because when I won cases sometimes my clients gave me gifts. Now Charto pays me $175 per month."
Mun Thol also denied that Charto was charging for its services and turned to blaming Licadho for Nonn's change of heart.
In an interview with the Post on Aug 3, while Nonn was still in prison, Mun Thol said: "I'm angry with [Licadho President Kek] Galabru. I suspect she heard from someone high-up that Nonn was going to be released.
"So she tried to steal the case from us so that Licadho could get the glory for Nonn's release. Why does she do this? She already has funding from the EU.
"Maybe Licadho is short of funds so they are trying to get more money from The Asia Foundation and take funding away from us.
"But Charto does not need the Nonn trial to prove its reputation. We are easily the best legal defenders in the country, in all the courts our defenders are accepted."
On Aug 2 Licadho and Adhoc asked Charto for their defense file on the Nonn case to help Licadho and Adhoc prepare the defense. But Charto refused to hand the file over.
Mun Thol said: "I'm not going to give over the file, I don't want to help Licadho get the glory for Nonn's release."
Gillespie said Charto was doing what any professional legal firm was entitled to do, but he admitted it was perhaps morally wrong of them- since the NGO received aid funding on an understanding that its first obligation was to protect people's human rights.
Due to the late change in legal defenders the Phnom Penh Court decided on Aug 2 to postpone the Nonn trail to give the Adhoc and Licadho defenders more time to prepare the case.
Adhoc and Licadho made an immediate application for bail which was excepted by the court on Aug 6. Nonn was released from PJ at 9 am on Aug 6 ending his 28 day period in confinement.
There were no conditions attached to his release and a new trial date is yet to be set.
Galabru strongly denied the accusations leveled against Licadho. She said: "I tried to persuade Nonn not to change defenders at such a late stage but he insisted on it. Licadho was obligated, as a human rights defender, to accede to Nonn's request and take up the defense of his case.
"I am disappointed Charto has turned to blaming us for their own internal problems [charging people for defense], they should rather concentrate on trying to fix these problems.
"It was unprofessional of Charto not to give us their file to help us prepare the Nonn case."
Galabru also denied there was a funding shortage at Licadho and receiving information from anyone "high-up" about Nonn being released.
Gillespie said while there had obviously been a foul-up between the NGOs the incident could be best attributed to growing pains.
An NGO expert said: "This incident highlights the dilemma in the set-up structure of NGOs. It is good to encourage them to compete against each other for funding so that they will be efficient and non profligate with their use of aid.
"But sometimes such competition can become counterproductive to the detriment of the people they are suppose to serve."