The former prosecutor of Pursat province yesterday denied charges of corruption, extortion and false imprisonment, as crowds of onlookers gathered to observe the Anticorruption Unit’s first high-profile court case.
Onlookers, at some points numbering up to 40, surrounded Pursat provinicial court yesterday in order to catch a glimpse of Top Chan Sereyvuth being helped to and from court – due to a medical condition affecting his legs – before being sent away by traffic police.
The former prosecutor, along with bodyguards Chhit Vuthy and Ros Samnang, face charges relating to an incident alleged to have taken place on June 24 last year.
The plaintiff, 28-year-old Khol Sokna, told the court that on June 17 he had led a group of drummers to perform in Anlong Veng district in Oddar Meanchay province.
But due to very heavy rain the performance was cancelled and he did not have enough money to buy food for the group. Subsequently, he agreed to transport wood across Cambodia for US$800 with a $300 advance.
He told the court that a week later, as he drove though Pursat province at around 10:00pm on June 24, he was stopped by two men working for Top Chan Sereyvuth, one of whom, he said, was Chhit Vuthy.
They arrested him and demanded US$8,000 to ensure his release, before taking him to a forestry administration office in Krakor district, he claimed.
They were followed by another car, in which Ros Samnang was alleged to be travelling in.
“I gave US$3,000 to them to release me,” Khol Sokna said.
“I want the court to strongly punish Top Chan Sereyvuth and his partners. I need US$10,000 in compensation because my mother sold a motorbike and a rice field to give these bad people money,” he said.
When Top Chan Sereyvuth, who was arrested on November 29, took the stand he denied all charges against him, including allegations that he ordered his employees to extort money.
The denial came after a handwritten letter, penned at the ACU and read out by the judge, to Prime Minister Hun Sen stating: “I, Top Chan Sereyvuth, am responsible for everything that I described in that sometimes I ordered my brother-in-law, Pich Kong You, and Ros Samnang, who was a driver and bodyguard, to watch out for illegal logging because there are few forestry administrative officials – so they could not crackdown the illegal logging.”
Yesterday, he said: “When the Anticorruption Unit officers asked me, at that time I was so scared. That made me give the wrong answers.
“Actually I did not do what they accused me of because I was in Phnom Penh on June 24, 2010.”
His lawyer, Chea Chhay, reiterated the claim stating that there was no clear evidence against his client.
“I implore the court to drop the accusations and release him on bail from today – let him have his freedom,” he said.
Chhit Vuthy and Ros Samnang also denied all charges against them.
After hearing the evidence, judge Duch Chantha said that the court would announce its verdict on May 12.
Regardless of the verdict, some people seem to have come to their own conclusions.
Te Sothea, 50, a villager in Pursat province who stood in front of the court, said: “If this former prosecutor is released, it is very unfair.”