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Keo Near (left), Buot Chenda and Nuth Sakhorn
Keo Near (left), Buot Chenda and Nuth Sakhorn at court yesterday. Heng Chivoan

‘Weak’ charges stand in Bandith shooting

Disgraced former Bavet town governor Chhouk Bandith had his 18-month sentence for the shooting of three garment workers in 2012, which was widely derided as “weak” by rights groups, upheld by the Supreme Court yesterday.

Bandith, 38, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and fined $9,500 in June last year for the Kaoway Sports factory shootings in Bavet, Svay Rieng province, on February 20, 2012, but remains in hiding.

The city’s deputy police chief, Sar Chantha, 41, was given a six-month suspended sentence and fined $250.

Supreme Court Judge Chan Rainsey said yesterday that the decision of the Appeal Court on November 4, 2013, was “correct and made within the laws”, leaving the victims and their families outraged and making disappointed pleas for his capture.

“The Supreme Court has decided to uphold the court’s decision and orders the arrest of Chhouk Bandith and for him to be brought to face the law,” Rainsey said.

Bandith’s first conviction came after Minister of Interior Sar Kheng named him as the sole suspect in the case and a number of witnesses identified him as the shooter.

He was charged but not arrested before the Svay Rieng Provincial Court dropped their case against him in December 2012, sparking outrage from victims and rights groups. The Appeal Court ordered he be retried after reinvestigating the case in March last year.

Bandith was convicted of “unintentional violence” under Article 236 of the Criminal Code, while Chantha was convicted of using an illegal weapon in connection with the shooting of the three striking garment workers: Buot Chenda, Keo Near and Nuth Sakhorn.

Sakhorn yesterday said that the decision was unfair, but urged authorities to hunt for Bandith.

“I think that the court’s decision was not right and is very unfair to the three of us,” she said. “Nevertheless, we are asking the authorities to seek the arrest of Bandith so he can serve his sentence.”

Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor at rights group Licadho, said that the sentence was inappropriate considering the nature of the crime.

“[T]he charges against Bandith were not appropriate and fitting for his crime. The punishment was very weak,” he said. “He should have been charged and convicted on charges of attempted murder.”

Te Chamnan, Bandith’s defence lawyer, was also displeased with the decision, but for different reasons.

“My client … had his gun with him, but he never fired it,” he said. “They must have been shot by someone else.”

Brigadier General Kheng Tito, spokesman for Military Police, dismissed assertions that the hunt for Bandith has not been a priority.

“Police have not hidden him. So far, we have not found him yet. We don’t know if he’s hiding in Cambodia or fled abroad,” he said.

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