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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Vannak accuser recants confession

Vannak accuser recants confession

RENEWED controversy has engulfed the case of Srun Vong Vannak - the Sam Rainsy loyalist

jailed for arranging the murder of Second Prime Minister Hun Sen's brother-in-law

- after one of his co-defendants recanted, in a dramatic turnaround on appeal, his

previous testimony.

The convicted trigger-man in the murder, Sos Kasem, testified in an abortive Court

of Appeals hearing March 20 that he had been ordered by police to confess - and implicate

Vannak and another man, Prum Mean Rith - or risk death.

"If I agreed to answer what I had been told to, I and my family would be well

fed. If I disagreed, I would be killed," Kasem told Judge Saly Thira.

Kasem testified that police had arrested him, shown him the murder scene and coached

him on what to say at court. When asked who arrested him, he replied: "Mok Chito".

At the original trial, Vannak had presented an almost identical tale of intimidation,

claiming criminal police chief Chito had threatened to kill him if he did not confess.

Vannak had admitted organizing the murder on a police tape, accusing Sam Rainsy and

other party officials of giving him orders to do so, but recanted the statement at

trial.

Chito was not present at the appeal but had testified for the prosecution at the

first trial, noting that police had eyewitnesses to Kasem's alleged hit. He told

the Post in September that police had not mistreated the suspects.

The change in the testimony of Vannak's accuser might be a significant development

on appeal, since the trial court judge told the Post he based his decision mainly

on that testimony.

Municipal Court Judge Nop Suphon said after the trial that he focused on the confessions

of the two accomplices, noting, "One consistency was irrefutable. Both of them

said they met Vannak at a restaurant near Wat Phnom and Sos Kasem was given a gun.

This is solid evidence."

When asked how much weight he had given to Vannak's confession at the original trial,

the judge said: "What I paid attention to was not the tape."

In his new testimony, Kasem said he was boarding a boat from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh

on Nov 19, 1996, at the time Kov Samuth was killed on Norodom Boulevard.

But since Kasem had no lawyer, and thus no legal help to procure defense witnesses,

the judge adjourned the entire case until Kasem and Mean Rith, also lawyerless, acquired

defenders.

Legal observers, however, questioned why the case was not sent back to the lower

court, or even dismissed.

"If there is now evidence that the main accuser was forced into a confession,

it invalidates the whole process," said one human rights worker.

Vannak, security chief for Rainsy's former Khmer Nation Party, was sentenced to 13

years on Sept 9, 1997. Kasem received 15 years and Mean Rith, the confessed go-between,

is serving 10.

Many legal observers, citing conflicting testimony and procedural errors, labeled

the verdict a travesty at the time.

During a brief detente in relations between Sam Rainsy and Hun Sen, the premier had

promised to seek a Royal pardon for the convicts. "Please inform the family

of the convicted that I still intend to keep my promise [to seek an amnesty] and

I will do everything without delay to make a proposal to His Majesty the King,"

Hun Sen wrote to Rainsy on Jan 2, 1998.

But the premier's spokesman Prak Sokhonn said March 24 that there would probably

be no progress on the pardon until the court proceedings were final.

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