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Officials probe Pailin prison

A prison guard stands in front of Pailin Provincial Prison in August
A prison guard stands in front of Pailin Provincial Prison in August. Employees of the facility have accused the director and deputy director of taking money from staff and prisoners. Joe Freeman

Officials probe Pailin prison

Officials in Pailin Provincial Prison have accused its two top administrators of extorting money from prisoners and employees, according to an official complaint sent to the Anti-Corruption Unit and the General Department of Prisons at the Ministry of Interior.

Dated October 5, the document, thumbprinted by 16 guards and other employees, alleges that Nov Thoeung, the prison director, and Sok Saru, his deputy, skimmed funds off the top of wages, collected the salary of an employee who didn’t work there, charged prisoners for food, basic supplies and choice sleeping spots in a communal area, and even collected a dead employee’s funeral payout, refusing to give it to the family.

The complaint also alleges that Thoeung and Saru took supplies that were intended for prisoners, allowed alcohol to be freely consumed and turned a blind eye to gambling and loan-sharking.

Thoeung, speaking on behalf of himself and his deputy, vehemently denied the accusations yesterday.

“My salary … is enough for supporting my family, and I do not have to exploit a little money, which can affect my reputation,” Thoeung said, adding that he believed the accusations were a frame-up orchestrated by Heng Chandara, director of the corrections officers at the prison.

He vowed to file a defamation suit if cleared of all wrongdoing.

Contacted yesterday, Chandara said an investigation would show whether the complaint was true or not.

Started in 2011 as a temporary space to handle the influx of convicts from the new provincial court, Pailin’s prison is housed in an old movie theatre. The building, painted in yellow and white, and shaped like a rectangle topped by a squiggly crown, looks nothing like a corrections facility.

Rights groups have decried the less than satisfactory conditions, including a large cage for male inmates. The prison houses female inmates, too, and taken together, there are a little more than 100 people serving time within its walls.

On a visit there in August, an employee told the Post that the government was almost finished with a new facility.

Sharon Critoph, a prison consultant for the rights group Licadho, said in an email that the conditions in the prison have improved, sort of.

“Basically they converted the upper level of the cinema into an area for the female inmates and the men are still downstairs. The cage is still in the men’s area but the men are not locked in the cage all day long as they previously were – they can come out into the main area where they have a makeshift volleyball court,” she said.

“Also there have been some improvements in terms of ventilation and natural light. Saying this, Pailin ‘prison’ is still a tough place to be – primarily because there is absolutely no opportunity to get outside.”

Kuy Bunsorn, the Ministry of Interior’s director general of prisons, said the government is investigating the complaint.

“We will educate and improve the two Pailin prison managers if we find out their faults as accused by their subordinates,” he said.