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Lawyer on trial for ‘bribe’

Lawyer on trial for ‘bribe’

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday heard the case of a lawyer accused of attempting to bribe a judge, with whom he had never spoken, and despite his insistence that cash he had collected from his clients – who filed the corruption complaint against him – was payment for bail.

Attorney Pich Ratana, 43, said he was representing Sang Sary and her husband, Pam Sokna – who had been jailed over a case involving a plot of land in which Sary was also summonsed – when Sary begged him to secure bail for the couple.

“So, I told her to bring along an original [land title] to court for bail, but she didn’t have it,” Ratana told the court. “So, as a last resort, I told her to prepare money to put up for bail. I did not tell her to bribe the judge.”

Ratana said that on the day of his arrest, he met Sary at Olympic Stadium, where she forced him to accept $5,000, after which he was immediately arrested in an Anti-Corruption Unit sting. Sary was not present at court, but said in a statement that Ratana asked her to prepare money for the judge without clearly explaining it was for bail.

When pressed by prosecutor Ngin Pich, Ratana allowed that he “told [Sary], in the case the judge doesn’t agree on the bail, you can give the money to him to thank him, or whatever you want to do”.

ACU official Keo Neatmuny said an investigation corroborated that account, but did not accuse Ratana of discussing a bribe with the judge or offering to bribe the judge himself.

Judge Soreasey, meanwhile, was not called to testify. The Anti-Corruption Law defines an “attempt” as “commenc[ing] to commit the offense .  .  . with direct intention”. As Ratana had never spoken about a bribe to the judge, his defence argued, no crime had been committed.

Prosecutor Pich, however, maintained the advice that Sary could “thank the judge” if she chose constituted an attempted bribe. A verdict is due on December 30.

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