The prosecutor handling the case of five current and former human rights workers held in pre-trial detention for almost nine months on “bribery” allegations involving an opposition sex scandal has rejected the recommendation of the investigating judge to finish the probe, demanding more evidence.
Speaking yesterday, Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutor Kuch Kimlong said he had not accepted investigating judge Theam Chanpiseth’s request to end the investigative stage of the case, the results of which were said to have been sent to him in December.
“Based on the law, the investigation is not completely finished yet,” Kimlong said yesterday, declining to give further details.
Reached yesterday, investigating judge Chanpiseth said the extension would “not be long”, though neither official would give a time frame on when a decision about whether the five would be sent to trial would be made.
“For this case, I cannot say because it relates to the investigation procedures and to the witnesses who will be invited,” Chanpiseth said.
“We try to work on this case quickly,” he added.
The news, yesterday slammed by rights groups, is yet another blow for the five Adhoc employees – Nay Vanda, Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan and Lem Mony, and election official Ny Chakrya – who were ensnared last April as part of what many saw as a manufactured case against Cambodia National Rescue Party deputy president Kem Sokha.
The case stemmed from seemingly tapped phone conversations suggesting the opposition leader had an affair with a 25-year-old hairdresser, with counter-terrorism police and the Anti-Corruption Unit throwing themselves into an investigation into the matter on what was widely considered flimsy pretext.
It was hoped that a recent royal pardon, which quashed a related five-month conviction for Sokha in December, had heralded the group’s imminent release.
But since a meeting between Sokha, Prime Minister Hun Sen and Interior Minister Sar Kheng on December 7 – after which Kheng suggested a solution could come before the end of the year – relations between the parties have nosedived and negotiations stalled.
Reached yesterday, Sam Sokong, attorney for jailed National Election Committee secretary-general Ny Chakrya, said although the prosecutor was within his legal rights to extend the probe, the court appeared to be short on evidence and stalling for time.
“The investigation has lasted about nine months since their arrest. This case is not a serious crime and the additional investigation is not needed,” Sokong said. “The investigation resulted in nothing, or is without evidence to prove the accusations.”
He said defence lawyers in the case had filed a motion with the court on January 10 demanding the prosecutor end the probe or drop the charges.
Spokesman for Adhoc Sam Chankea also suggested the further delay spoke to the lack of merit of the case, adding the delay appeared punitive not practical.
Chakrya’s wife, Yem Chantha, 47, said the hope roused by Sokha’s pardon had given way to heartbreak.
“Now I will never have hope unless my husband comes home,” the mother of three said.
The bribery of a witness charges against the group centre on just over $200 Chandaraty received as support when she approach Adhoc for help, claiming she was wrongfully named as Sokha’s mistress.
After being accused of prostitution by officials probing the scandal, the hairdresser changed her story, confessed to the affair and alleged the group had tried to buy her silence.
Calling for their immediate release, John Coughlan, a regional monitor for Amnesty International, said the case was a “travesty of justice”. “While the flimsy justifications offered by government spokespeople for the case against the five may be comical, their continued detention is no laughing matter,” he said, via email.