Senate president Chea Sim’s former chief of protocol, Pheng Kunthea Borey, who was sentenced to four years in prison in 2011 for fraud, was seen wandering in Phnom Penh yesterday, a free woman.
After a Post reporter spotted Kunthea Borey, 57, outside a restaurant in Chamkarmon district, her lawyer, Muong Sokun, said she had been released from Prey Sar prison before serving her full sentence and was back living with her family.
Kunthea Borey’s release had been granted on medical grounds, Sokun told the Post, and she walked free late last month, when all eyes were focused on the results of the national election.
“Madam Pheng Kunthea Borey ... was released from Prey Sar prison at the end of July after the election,” Sokun said, adding that she continued to suffer from high blood pressure after a heart attack.
“As her defence lawyer, I am very pleased she was released and has her freedom back.”
Kunthea Borey was one of three advisers to Sim imprisoned for creating fake infrastructure contracts worth millions of dollars and accepting bribes from bidders to obtain Sim’s signature on letters of approval. The group was found to have duped more than 50 foreign companies.
Tan Senarong, vice prosecutor of the Appeal Court, which in April rejected Kunthea Borey’s appeal, said he was told Kunthea Borey had been released after receiving a royal pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni.
“But so far I have not seen [the pardon],” Senarong said.
Kunthea Borey’s co-convicted, Ponlork Ho and Khieu Bora – who was given only a three-year sentence – were still serving their time, he added.
Kuy Bunsan, director of the Ministry of Interior’s prison department, confirmed that Kunthea Borey had been released last week, but refused to elaborate. Ho and Bora’s lawyer, Thong Chan Rithy, said his clients had also been sick and should be released.
“I think I will write to the King to ask him to pardon them soon,” he said.
Kunthea Borey’s health concerns were a feature of her plea for release following her initial trial.
When calling for his client’s appeal case to be heard last September, lawyer Suy Chhunhak said Kunthea Borey was in a frail state.
“I am afraid that if her health weakens from day to day, and her appeal hearing is delayed or not held ... she would not be able to bring her appeal hearing in the future,” he said.
But because Kunthea Borey’s conviction was upheld, her unpublicised release raises more questions about a justice system rife with impunity, Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak said.
“There are quite a lot of people who are sick in jail and not all are released,” he said.
“Chhouk Bandith is still free. And [accused killers of Chea Vichea] Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun have 20-year sentences – innocent people are still imprisoned.
“It all points to the same thing – the whole justice system is a huge mess.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHANE WORRELL