Local officials who were sent to interview Cambodians facing deportation from the US allegedly attempted to extort bribes from the detainees and their families, according to documents filed in a California court.
The detainees claim Cambodian officials promised to help stop their deportations if they gave the officials “gifts”, including Rolex watches, designer perfume, cash and iPhones.
Roughly 100 Cambodian citizens living in the US have been fighting their deportation orders after being rounded up by US immigration authorities in October.
Many of them were brought to the US as refugee children fleeing the Khmer Rouge and were later convicted of a range of crimes in their youth.
In a ruling on Friday, US Federal Judge Cormac Carney said US immigration officials had violated the detainees’ due process rights by not giving them a chance to be heard before deporting them, and said that 92 who were set to be deported can stay while they fight their cases in court.
The detainees’ American lawyers could not be immediately reached yesterday.
According to Carney’s ruling, the group facing deportation has reported that Cambodian officials have gone as far as to contact their family members to demand bribes and threatened detainees that they will “face consequences” in Cambodia if they told authorities about the demands.
Asked whether he would investigate the claims, Sok Phal, the head of immigration for the Interior Ministry, said he needed to know the names of the officials in order to do so, but said he did not believe the claims.
Preap Kol of Transparency International said the government “appointed the officials to work on this matter, so I assume the government knows who the allegations were directed at”.
“Given the extent of corruption in Cambodia, such claims and reports of extortions or bribes should be properly investigated,” Kol said in a message.
Phal claimed that both interior and foreign affairs officials had gone to the US to interview detainees, though an official with the Foreign Ministry, who requested anonymity, said none had done so from their ministry.
The protracted fight over deportations has been a wedge in US-Cambodian relations over the last year. US officials imposed visa sanctions on top-ranking Foreign Ministry officials last year after alleged repeated refusals to accept deportees. In retaliation, the Cambodian government suspended a joint program to locate and repatriate the remains of US service members who went missing during the Vietnam War.
On Saturday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry praised the judge’s decision to government mouthpiece Fresh News and called the visa sanctions “unreasonable, unfair and even counter to its own laws”.
“We take this auspicious opportunity to renew our appeal to the US to lift its visa restrictions in order to pave the way for the resumption of the excellent bilateral cooperation on the MIA [program],” Sounry said.
Detainees have until February 5 to file challenges to their deportation orders.