A cousin of Prime Minister Hun Sen was found guilty in absentia of corruption and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison yesterday, but remains free in Phnom Penh as a warrant for her arrest has still not been issued.
Dy Proem, 49, was found guilty of paying a US$200,000 bribe to the former deputy general director of the inspection department at the Ministry of National Assembly-Senate Relations and Inspection, Seng Yean, in connection with a Phnom Penh land dispute in 2008.
Judge Duch Kimsorn told the court that Dy Proem bribed Seng Yean to issue a fake Council of Ministers statement on March 18, 2008, falsely claiming she was the rightful owner of more than 5 hectares of disputed land in Dangkor District’s Kakab Commune.
“Based on proof and witnesses, the court has found that Seng Yean and Dy Proem are guilty,” he said. Duch Kimsorn could not be reached later to explain why no arrest warrants had been issued.
Seng Yean was handed a four-and-a-half-year sentence, also in absentia – though he, too has not been issued an arrest warrant – for accepting the bribe, and was ordered to pay US$40,000 in compensation to the Ministry of National Assembly-Senate Relations and Inspection.
During the trial, both defendants were granted bail and neither was summonsed for questioning, in apparent violation of the 1993 penal code promulgated by the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia.
Kao Ty, the lawyer of plaintiff Huoth Sarom, vowed to sue Judge Duch Kimsorn at the Supreme Council of Judges soon, alleging that arrest warrants had never been issued for either of the suspects because of political interference.
“I do not accept the court’s verdicts for Mr Seng Yean and Dy Proem, because it was made with wrong court procedures. I also do not accept their sentences, because they are small – they do not fit their crimes,” he said.
Arrest warrants had not been issued for the pair, he alleged, because of their connections to Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
The premier has publicly distanced himself from the case in the past, saying last year that the law “does not think about relatives” and his cousin should be “strongly punished” if guilty.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodia Defenders Project, said the anti-corruption law technically allowed the court to not issue an arrest warrant for a guilty party, though this was set to change on December 10 when it is set to begin referencing the new penal law.
“If it is a felony, maybe she must be arrested, but there are two ways: [if she is] arrested under detention [a misdemeanor], there is no need to arrest,” he said, adding if an arrest warrant is not issued within five years, Dy Proem’s conviction would be annulled completely.
Panhavuth Long, a project officer at the Cambodia Justice Initiative, said the sentence was surprising given that Pursat provincial prosecutor Top Chan Sereyvuth was found guilty of corruption and imprisoned earlier this year.
“How come they found her guilty of corruption? You charge her and you found her guilty, and then you say that is not applicable because the corruption provision is not applicable – that is very strange,” he said.
Khieu Sophal and Chhiv Theng, the defence lawyers of Seng Yean and Dy Proem, respectively, both failed to attend court for the verdict, but later denied their clients had committed any wrongdoing.
Officials from the Ministry of Justice could not be reached for comment.