Triple-shooting suspect Chhouk Bandith has been sacked as Bavet town governor to prevent him from interfering in court proceedings, the Svay Rieng deputy provincial governor said yesterday.
The high-profile suspect is accused of shooting three garment factory workers at a protest outside the Kaoway Sports Ltd shoe factory in Svay Rieng’s Manhattan special economic zone last month.
Svay Rieng deputy governor Men Vibol said Chhouk Bandith’s governorship was terminated by a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on March 6, a day after he was issued a summons by the provincial court for questioning next Friday.
“The reason that the governor was fired from his position is because they make a way for the court to take action following the court procedure,” he said, suggesting that court officials might be unwilling to take action because of his position.
The sub-decree, also signed by Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, orders that Chhouk Bandith be given an unspecified position in the Svay Rieng provincial administration, he added.
Since the shooting on February 20, Bavet town hall officials have reportedly made repeated visits to the three victims, offering them sums ranging from US$500 to $1,000 in exchange for agreeing not to press charges against Chhouk Bandith.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said the move would strip Bandith of his influence over local police, government and court officials.
In terms of government, if they move or put him into a position without any power or put him in a suspended position, he still has the same rank, but he doesn’t have any power,” he said.
If there was evidence afterward to suggest Chhouk Bandith was still wielding influence that amounted to judicial interference, the victims of the shootings or NGOs could recommend the case be moved to another court through the judiciary, he added.
Svay Rieng provincial chief prosecutor Hing Bun Chea said the sub-decree had nothing to do with the court, which had been given a free reign to conduct its work since the beginning of the investigation.
Chhouk Bandith has been identified by Interior Minister Sar Kheng as the sole suspect in the shootings, which took place in front of about 6,000 protesters and police outside a supplier for sportswear
But the Svay Rieng court has declined to issue an arrest warrant, citing a lack of faith in the police reports.
The slow progress of the case has drawn sharp criticism of the police and courts from rights groups that have said a suspect should have been arrested at the scene and expressed fears that Chhouk Bandith has now been given ample warning and time to escape.
Men Vibol said he did not know whether Chhouk Bandith would attend the swearing in of his former deputy, Neb Saron, as Bavet town governor on Friday, because he had not seen him.
PUMA said they will issue a joint brand statement today and Larry Kao, managing director the Manhattan SEZ, said it was not his place to comment on the sacking.