Bun Honn, the president of the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC), yesterday denied allegations of corruption at the legal body, and accused a local newspaper of fabricating a story suggesting it took bribes.
On Sunday, Koh Santepheap published an article in which journalist Mom Vann wrote that lawyers who want to register with the BAKC must pay a bribe of $10,000 to $50,000. The article claimed that applicants who did not pay were systematically ignored for months or even years.
Honn, however, told the Post yesterday that Vann had made up the accusations, and accused the journalist of spitefully inventing the bribery allegations – which have circulated for years – because he was trying to become a lawyer.
But Vann, for his part, denied he had fabricated the claims, saying he got his information from “rumours”. He declined to elaborate on his sources, and also would not say whether he had tried, or was currently trying, to become a lawyer.
“It’s a personal issue,” Vann said.
However, allegations of extravagant bribes to the BAKC are well-known to law students. Four students interviewed at the Royal University of Law and Economics yesterday all said they had heard bribes were required, and were concerned at the implications of having to pay such an exorbitant fee. Three of the four said they had heard independently that the bribe was $10,000 to $50,000, the same figure cited by Vann.
“I think it’s been happening for a long time,” said one student, who did not wish to be named. “If we want to be a lawyer, we need to pay.”
The student also said he hoped the policy would change because he and most of his friends could not afford to pay.
The allegations against the BAKC follow last year’s publication of a damning report on Cambodia’s legal system by the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute.
“We have seen a lot of corruption in other countries, but nothing on the endemic level that appears to be going on here,” Phillip Tahmindjis, director of IBAHRI, said at the time.
Billy Tai, a human rights consultant and legal expert, said this type of bribe was “well-known”, adding that, after paying such large bribes, lawyers and judges often took bribes themselves in order to recoup their “investment”, perpetuating a cycle of corruption.
“If anyone who can get together enough money can get admitted, then Cambodia will not be able to improve the quality of its legal profession,” he said.