Garment worker Buot Chenda (C) receives treatment at a hospital after she was shot during a protest in Svay Rieng province in February 2012. Witnesses implicated former Bavet town Governor Chhouk Bandith in the shooting. Photograph: Derek Stout/Phnom Penh Post
Two weeks after the Svay Rieng Provincial Court revealed it had dropped charges against former Bavet town Governor Chhouk Bandith in a controversial triple shooting case, the man who effectively replaced him as the prime suspect yesterday appeared at the Ministry of Interior.
Bavet town police chief Sar Chanta, the man the Svay Rieng court left as the sole suspect, yesterday reiterated his innocence.
“I didn’t commit [the crime] as accused. I didn’t fire, because I had no gun. It is such an injustice to me,” Chanta protested yesterday, speaking to the Post after having left the ministry.
Chanta claimed he was standing at the Sheico (Cambodia) Co, Ltd Factory located about 500 or 600 metres away from the scene of the crime outside the Kaoway Sports Ltd Factory, where three female protestors were shot on February 18.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak yesterday declined to talk about Chanta’s visit to the ministry or further elaborate on the twists and turns that have taken place in the lengthy investigation.
“That is the case under the court; you can contact with the court – whatever it does is right,” he said.
Appeal Court prosecutor general Ouk Savuth said he had filed a complaint against the provincial court’s decision on December 21 and would “debate this case on the table altogether publicly”.
“I don’t know if senior officials are involved or not, but what I do is transparent and legal,” he said.
Bandith was originally arrested for allegedly shooting the three women in front of about 6,000 protesters in March after Interior Minister Sar Kheng identified him as the sole suspect.
Perplexingly, an arrest warrant was never issued, and on December 14, the Svay Rieng Provincial Court dropped the charges against him, citing insufficient evidence, despite a vast number of witnesses and the fact Bandith had at least partially confessed.
From the very beginning, the case has been marred by allegations of political interference stemming from claims that Bavet town officials and Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An tried to buy the victims’ silence.
Svay Rieng, meanwhile, remains a province where Bandith holds powerful ties.
Earlier this year, Sok Sam Oeun, Cambodia’s top legal aid defence lawyer, suggested that if provincial level political interference in the case was a concern, it was legally possible for the Ministry of Justice to transfer the jurisdiction of the case.
Sok Sam Oeun yesterday welcomed Appeal Court prosecutor general Ouk Savuth’s decision to intervene in the case.
“Yes, this case must go to the Appeal Court. It is good that the prosecutor agreed to appeal. If he did not agree to appeal, the case cannot reach re-investigation because of double jeopardy,” he said.
To contact the reporters on this story: May Titthara at [email protected]
David Boyle at [email protected]