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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Wife of Christopher Howes's killer claims corruption in case

Wife of Christopher Howes's killer claims corruption in case

Om Tha has claimed that two men - the head of a local NGO and his uncle - offered to free her husband for a hefty price but failed.

THE prosecutor at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court is investigating a claim that the wife of jailed former Khmer Rouge commander Khem Ngun paid a local lawyer and another man US$81,000 to obtain his release, but that they failed to do so.

The two men strenuously denied the allegations, saying they had not been paid anything by Om Tha, who is Khem Ngun's wife, and had simply told her that she had no chance of freeing her husband.

Khem Ngun was sentenced last year to 20 years in jail by a Phnom Penh court for the murder of British deminer Christopher Howes and his Cambodian interpreter Houn Hourth in 1996.

Heang Sopheak, the prosecutor at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said Om Tha had accused Heang Rithy and Srey Sam Oeun. Heang Rithy is the president of the Cambodian National Research Organisation (CNRO), and Srey Sam Oeun is his uncle.

"I received her complaint and I called the suspects to court 10 days ago, but both denied her accusation and they have witnesses to back that up," Heang Sopheak said. "They haven't been charged with anything yet because I need more time to investigate the case."

Accused deny charges

Speaking on behalf of both lawyers, Heang Rithy told the Post Wednesday:

"We deny the allegation that the convicted ex-Khmer Rouge leader's wife Om Tha has filed with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court that we cheated her out of $81,000. There is no credible proof and no contract that we signed agreeing to help get her husband out of detention."

Heang Rithy said he had met Om Tha on just one occasion, after a request by his uncle Srey Sam Oeun.

"[The meeting was to discuss] providing legal services to help get her husband released from detention," he said. "But I told her that I can't help her because there is no evidence to prove his innocence."

Srey Sam Oeun told the Post: "The reason she had laid a complaint with the court is because she is angry that I couldn't take her to meet my cousin, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An."

The Post was unable to contact Om Tha for comment.

Damaging accusations

Heang Rithy said the charge was immensely damaging to their reputations, and they would file their own complaint to ensure the court restored their good names.

Yim Phanna, the governor of Anlong Veng district and a former Khmer Rouge military commander, told the Post he had met Om Tha and that she had claimed to have spent a lot of money on people who said they could intervene to get her husband released.

"I told her she shouldn't pay this money because it would be useless - the court has already tried him and it would be ineffective," Yim Phanna said. "I am very sad to hear she spent a lot of money on this. I told her she should keep the money and make a business for her family."



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