Wielding AK-47s, a beefed-up security contingent yesterday kept disgraced former Phnom Penh police chief Heng Pov away from reporters, following his threat last week to reveal who was behind the 2004 killing of prominent unionist Chea Vichea.
Returning to the Supreme Court after an outburst following his hearing on March 15, Pov was prevented from speaking to journalists and escorted to a waiting car after a half-hour session before Kim Sathavy, the presiding judge in his appeal against a five-year sentence for illegal detention. Like his appearance last week, when the former top cop demanded to proceed without a lawyer, the hearing ended with another indefinite postponement.
Pov, whose appeal concerns the 2003 imprisonment of a robbery suspect whose case had been acquitted, rejected a court-appointed attorney, Nou Chantha, and demanded access to his “frozen” cash to pay for his own representation.
“I need to use the budget that the court has frozen to pay for my lawyer,” Pov told the court, before also demanding the multitude of cases against him be expedited.
“I want the court to hold a trial for all my cases at once because it has been 10 years but it has still not finished yet,” he said. Though Sathavy said the court had “no right” to release his frozen funds, she appeared to agree to the second request.
“Next time I hope you can have your own lawyer and do not try to make an excuse … The court will try all your cases next time,” she said.
Despite the similar outcome, the atmosphere at yesterday’s hearing was markedly different from last week, when only a handful of guards were present.
The Kingdom’s highest court appeared on high alert, with several heavily armed police manning a checkpoint equipped with a metal detector.
Reached yesterday, municipal deputy police chief Song Ly said the security surge had nothing to do with Pov’s threat to lift the lid on one of the Kingdom’s highest profile murders, a pledge recorded by local media. “These are just normal security precautions,” Ly said.
Chea Vichea, the president of the Free Trade Union, was gunned down in 2004 while Pov was municipal police chief.
The killing, widely believed to be politically motivated, remains unresolved, after two men, widely seen as scapegoats, were acquitted.
Pov – who was arrested in 2006 and has since been sentenced to almost 100 years in prison on a raft of charges including extortion, kidnapping and murder – has in the past made claims about state involvement in killings.
In a 2006 interview with French weekly L’Express, Pov alleged that Hun Sen and former National Police chief Hok Lundy were behind the 1997 grenade attack on Sam Rainsy’s opposition party, and that first lady Bun Rany had ordered the killing of actress Piseth Pilika, who was allegedly having an affair with the premier.