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Justice ministry recommends fast-track of money laundering hearings

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Justice minister Koeut Rith takes group photos with judges and prosecutors after a meeting on expediting court cases on money laundering, on June 28. MINISTRY OF JUSTICE

Justice ministry recommends fast-track of money laundering hearings

The Ministry of Justice has recommended the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, Court of Appeal and all provincial courts and prosecutor’s offices to expedite proceedings on money laundering cases.

The move came after the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) – an inter-governmental body formed to combat money laundering – announced on June 15 that it would keep Cambodia on their “grey list” until the Kingdom completes the final “action item” on a list of 14 provided by the FATF, although they did praise Cambodia’s latest efforts at fighting money laundering crimes.

In a letter addressed to the courts and prosecutor’s offices earlier this week, justice minister Koeut Rith explained that it was imperative for Cambodia to complete all of the reforms necessary to get off of the FATF grey list later this year.

In 2019, the FATF placed Cambodia on the grey list and required that it complete eight “immediate outcomes” (IO) with 14 action items split between them. The Kingdom has completed 13 of the 14 action items and seven of the eight IOs at the time of their last report to the FATF.

To effectuate its removal from the grey list, Cambodia is obliged to submit progress reports to the International Cooperation Review Group – Joint Group (ICRG-JG) for revision before referring them to the FATF for review and assessment. The FATF will then decide whether Cambodia has done enough to warrant removal from the list.

After the submission of Cambodia’s ninth progress report on anti-money laundering, Koeut Rith said the ICRG-JG determined that the Kingdom had completed seven of the IOs and 13 of the action items.

The minister praised the work done by Cambodia’s judiciary to reach this point and thanked them for their joint commitment and cooperation at all levels of the courts and the prosecutor’s offices who he said have made tremendous efforts and prioritised the prosecution of money laundering cases.

“In its plenary meeting on June 15, 2022, FATF decided that Cambodia is to remain on the grey list for now while FATF continues to monitor the sustainability of anti-money laundering mechanisms in Cambodia,” the minister said.

He said the FATF still required that Cambodia complete the last remaining action item in the eighth IOs which deals with the “increasing of assets freezing and confiscations in money laundering cases”. The outstanding action item must be completed by the time the 10th progress report is submitted to ICRG-JG at the end of July, 2022.

The last remaining item directly involves measures taken by the courts and the prosecutor’s offices at all levels on the prosecution of money laundering cases within their respective jurisdictions.

“The justice ministry would like to recommend to the courts and prosecutor’s offices at all levels that have money laundering cases under their respective jurisdictions to responsibly and diligently pay close attention to and highly prioritise anti-money laundering efforts,” the letter said.

Koeut Rith recommended that the courts and prosecution offices continue to collaborate with relevant law enforcement officers to swiftly trace the assets related to money laundering offences so that the freezing of those assets is done in a timely and appropriate manner and according to the standard operating procedures, relevant laws and regulations in force.

When investigating cases for possible ties to money laundering activity, particular attention should be paid to high-risk offences such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, financial fraud or embezzlement, forestry and wildlife crimes, public corruption and customs and excise crimes.

“The municipal and provincial courts and the prosecutor’s offices should expedite the procedures for prosecutions, including the investigation and trial phases as well as the issuance of judgments on cases concerning money laundering offences and other high-risk offences.

“This must be done in accordance with the applicable laws and procedures in order to freeze the proceeds of crimes, including instrumentalities, assets and properties of equivalent value,” he said.

The minister noted that recently, the freezing and seizing of assets has been done under the jurisdiction of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, but also in the provincial courts of Siem Reap, Kampong Cham, Koh Kong, Preah Sihanouk, Kandal and Svay Rieng. Those courts have frozen assets totalling $24 million while seizing assets worth $11 million.

Yin Srang, spokesman for the Siem Reap Provincial Court, told The Post that the court has been following procedure regarding the charges, investigations, trials and delivery of verdicts in money laundering cases and the high-risk offences related to money laundering.

“In a court case, there is an investigation and then the case is sent to trial. The Siem Reap Provincial Court has followed the procedures and there is no backlog in money laundering cases. All of our trials are proceeding based on our schedule,” he said.

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