Phnom Penh Municipal Court has dropped the abuse-of-power lawsuit filed against retiring municipal governor Kep Chuktema by “Crocodile Grandmother” Chhin Sokountheary, according to a letter signed by the case’s prosecutor two weeks ago, despite assurances yesterday by the same prosecutor that the investigation was proceeding apace.
Court deputy prosecutor Meas Chan Piseth said yesterday that his office had summonsed Chuktema to explain accusations that he had abused his power by falsifying documents in order to steal 34 hectares of land from Sokountheary – the director of Layimex Holding Group, who filed a suit against Chuktema last month seeking $100 million in damages.
Yesterday morning, Chan Piseth said in an interview that he was “still investigating [Chuktema’s] case, and waiting for him to come to the court and explain this accusation”.
However, in a letter on official court stationery bearing Chan Piseth’s seal and signature – dated April 9, but only received by the plaintiff late yesterday evening – the court said it has “already decided to stall this case”.
“It means that the case has been dropped,” said Sokountheary’s lawyer, Sok Sam Oeun, who confirmed he had received the letter. Elaborating further, he said, “dropped is dropped”.
Before receiving the letter, Sam Oeun had said he was “looking forward to seeing the court’s management of this case”. Now, he says, he has a one-month window to appeal the decision to the investigative chamber of the Appeal Court.
The lawsuit accuses Chuktema and some Sen Sok district officials of falsifying documents reclassifying land that Sokountheary had legally bought as state land – land that was confiscated in August 2012.
Sokountheary was sentenced in absentia to four years in prison for illegally encroaching on state land the following December, a charge she has since denied from abroad.
When called back for clarification regarding his remarks’ seeming contradiction of the 2-week-old letter, Chan Piseth said he was busy exercising, then switched off his phone.
Speaking even before the letter surfaced, Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak said prosecuting such a high-ranking official may put the court “in extremely hot water”.