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KRT judges suppress corruption questions

KRT judges suppress corruption questions

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090403_02.jpg

Defence queries relating to persistent kickback allegations dismissed by court's judges during Ieng Sary bail hearings.

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AFP PHOTO/POOL

Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary at the ECCC during a public bail hearing Thursday. 

LAWYERS at the Khmer Rouge tribunal addressed the issue of corruption for the first time inside courtroom walls Thursday, prompting a gaglike response from judges over what has been referred to as a black cloud hanging over the court.

Merely days after the substantial beginning of the historic trial of the Khmer Rouge's most notorious prison chief, Kaing Guek Eav, lawyers for another detainee, former foreign minister Ieng Sary, confronted judges directly about the issue, which has been consistently dodged by the court, the UN and the government since allegations that staff were kicking back some of their salary to their bosses arose last year.

Speaking at a bail hearing scheduled for lawyers to argue the release of their client on the basis of health, Michael Karnavas, Ieng Sary's international co-lawyer, argued that comments from Prime Minister Hun Sen two days ago regarding the ill health of the court now meant there were new issues at stake.

"We don't know whether in six months' or a year's time this investigation will be still here," said Karnavas.

"The court needs to investigate what, if any, part of the investigative process has been tainted," he added.

Making reference to a German delegation report leaked to the media in February, in which the head of administration, Sean Visoth, was named as being "found guilty of corruption", Karnavas argued that due diligence could not be upheld if the court was about to collapse on the weight of the allegations, which preceded a drop in donations to the Cambodian side of the court.

"It is part and parcel of the issue of due dilligence; if this institution will not be in place in six months' or a year's time, my client [should be released]," said Karnavas.

The unexpected comments prompted an immediate response from judges and prosecutors, who said the issue was not on the written submission and therefore could not be discussed.

"The lawyers' 19-page appeal does not mention corruption once.... In accordance to [the internal rules of the court] lawyers are prevented from raising additional matters of fact to the appeal," co-prosecutor Anees Ahmed said.

But lawyers argued that as the comments were made only two days ago, they could not have included it in the appeal.

After interrupting lawyers several times on the basis of "repetiton", judges ruled that the topic was inappropriate.

"There will be no discussion of the issues of budget or the issues of corruption," Judge Rowan Downing said.

Unreleased review

Allegations of graft at the court among Cambodian staffers arose last year, prompting a review of the court by a UN oversight body. A report of this review was sent to the government, which never made it public. No further inquiries has since been undertaken.

However, suspicion has only grown out of the silence surrounding the court's two sides, with lawyers now coalescing to have the issue finally resolved.

Three out of five defence teams support a request made by former regime leader Nuon Chea's team last week that the court examine the corruption allegations in the interests of a fair trial, with civil party lawyers hinting that they will also get on board.

Andrew Ianuzzi, a legal consultant for Nuon Chea's defence team, said that given such momentum inside the court, the judges'  response on the issue Thursday was disappointing.

"From the moment corruption became an issue, it has been covered up. Public affairs has minimised it, the UN has avoided it, the government has ignored it. But you don't expect to see the judges doing the same thing," he said.

"When the issue was brought up today, you could see the Cambodian judges exchange looks. After comments like that by the prime minister, I wouldn't be surprised if the Cambodian judges were told to keep quiet and dodge the issue."

Government officials told the Post Thursday that allegations of corruption were politically motivated.

"This accusation of corruption is political. Some NGOs have a political agenda with Khmer Rouge issues," Minister for Information Khieu Kanharith said.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, added, "The corruption allegations at the Khmer Rouge tribunal administration are only a strategy to delay the judicial process, provoked by some people."  

However, in a press conference after the proceedings, Karnavas told reporters it was up to the UN to meet its own international standards if the issue was to be resolved.

"If the UN can go around the world lecturing about transparency, then they have the responsibility to provide the [oversight] report to the court," he said. "If they came here to do it the right way, then do it the right way."

Judges are yet to decide whether to release Ieng Sary on bail because of his age and poor health. 

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