Two investigations into provincial prosecutors are a welcome step forward, say rights groups, but are no clear indication of reform
THE Ministry of Justice is investigating chief prosecutors in two provincial courts after receiving complaints about the officials' conduct, but rights groups say that the investigations have only moved ahead because the complaints were brought by powerful interests.
Ratanakkiri Provincial Court Chief Prosecutor Mey Sokhan was removed from a high-profile case last month after being accused by agricultural firm DM Group of slowing down the legal process in their case against hundreds of villagers who are disputing the company's right to a 700-hectare plot of farmland.
Kong Seth, chief prosecutor at Kampong Speu Provincial Court, is also under investigation for unknown charges stemming from complaints from provincial officials.
Roath Thavy, provincial coordinator of local rights group Adhoc, said he did not know the exact charges against Kong Seth, but that rumours in the province pointed to allegations of bribery.
Judge Kim Sophorn, who is part of the investigative teams on both cases, said the investigations in Ratanakkiri are now complete, but that he and other inspectors were still logging reports from Kampong Speu.
"We went to Kampong Speu Wednesday to investigate complaints about court chief prosecutor Kong Seth. The charges ware made by the province's environmental officials," he said, adding that he could not make further comments until the investigation is finished.
Adhoc President Thun Saray said it was a step forward for the Ministry of Justice to be investigating complaints about the judiciary, but added that only now - when businessmen or other powerful interests were making the complaints - were steps being taken.
"A lot of people are crying about the injustices of the courts and the police force without the minister of justice reacting," he said. "But as soon as they hear complaints from powerful people and businessmen, they conduct an investigation."
Putting on a good face
Sok Sam Oeun, director of the Cambodian Defenders' Project, told the Post that he supported any effort to reform the judiciary, but said it was too soon to judge whether the current investigations would yield to further reforms.
"If this is a real action, it's a big change for the government," he said, adding that in pursuing the investigations in Kampong Speu, the government might be trying to put on a good face during the current international donors forum. "We will have to see. Sometimes it is only for show."
According to Kim Sophorn, only two Cambodian prosecutors have ever been disbarred, adding that rulings on the two cases will be made by a body called the Council of Discipline under the Supreme Council of the Magistracy.
Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana said that inspection teams usually consisted of four or five officials.