After about seven months in pre-trial detention, former tank commander Ma Sobin walked free on Friday when the Supreme Court dropped land infraction and forgery charges laid on him by the Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court.
Sobin, also known as Sok Ma, had been accused by his neighbour Va Roeun of encroaching on his land and forging ownership documents.
Last month, Roeun dropped his official complaint against Sobin after the defendant paid him 20,000 baht ($671) in an out-of-court settlement.
Presiding judge Khim Pon said the court had determined that there was now insufficient evidence to convict Sobin and, after a bail hearing on May 3, had also decided that the charges against him were of a civil nature.
“Based on the hearing, the Supreme Court has found that this case was a civil one, and there was not enough proof to charge Ma Sobin as accused. What’s more, the plaintiff had already withdrawn his lawsuit,” Pon said.
Sok Sam Oeun, head of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said that while he was not familiar with the specific case, charges under the Land Law – such as these – are typically both civil and criminal.
Pon added that Sobin had been arrested last November when his neighbour, Roeun, accused him of encroaching onto a 60-metre-by-200-metre section of his land.
Afterwards, Pon said, authorities discovered that Sobin had been “faking letters in public documents” in 2010 to establish ownership of the land.
Sobin had previously submitted, and been denied, bail requests to the provincial and appellate courts, Pon noted.
Roeun and his attorney could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Sobin, likewise, could not be reached, but his lawyer, Ou Vuth, said the court’s decision had been “made with common sense and transparency”.
Regarding the accusations against his client, Vuth said that Sobin had bought the land and cultivated rice on it since 2001 without knowing that it “overlapped” the plaintiff’s plot.
Additional reporting by Stuart White