Several witnesses at the Khmer Rouge tribunal have mentioned that, as head of state, co-accused Khieu Samphan rode in a small, wall-less Lambretta car – evidence, they claim, of his modest lifestyle and lack of true power during the Khmer Rouge regime.
Yesterday, the tribunal heard testimony from a driver of that car, Leng Chhoeung, who was just 15 or 16 when tasked with Khieu Samphan’s transportation in 1978.
Like other witnesses called by Samphan’s defence team, Chhoeung described Samphan as a “respectable, gentle, honest and kindhearted person” who lived humbly and instructed Chhoeung to “waste not, want not”.
But despite frequent contact with Samphan, Chhoeung, like Samphan’s wife So Socheat last week, offered few details on Samphan’s activities, frequently pleading ignorance or forgetfulness because “at that time I was very young” and “don’t want to speculate”.
Chhoeung said that in the seven or so months between his appointment as driver and Vietnam’s overthrow, he drove Samphan about once a week to K-1, Pol Pot’s headquarters, and would see Nuon Chea and Ieng Sary’s drivers there.
To Chhoeung’s knowledge, Samphan never visited any security centres or received any visitors, he said.
Despite learning from the radio that Samphan was president of the state presidium, Chhoeung said he had the impression that Samphan actually was not very powerful and “did not have much work to do”.
In response to prosecutors’ questions, Chhoeung said he had voluntarily joined the Khmer Rouge through its children’s unit in 1973, against his parents’ wishes, and had suffered no hardship under the regime. Court resumes on Wednesday.