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Many motives to murder judge

Many motives to murder judge

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Judge Sok Sethamony is wheeled in for emergency surgery at Calmette Hospital on April 23. He died two hours later.

M

urdered Municipal Court Judge Sok Sethamony had many enemies and was "very

corrupt and hated by a lot of people," said an international legal expert who

knew him.

Sethamony was gunned down in Phnom Penh at 7.45 a.m. on April 23 while his car sat

at the intersection of Street 63 and Sihanouk Boulevard.

Two young men on a motorbike fired five shots into his silver Mitsubishi Pajero hitting

the 42-year-old judge four times, wounding him in the chest and stomach. The men

fled and Sethamony was rushed to Calmette Hospital where emergency surgery failed

to save his life.

Three separate investigations have been launched into the case with the Ministry

of Interior, municipal police and military police all looking into the matter.

The head of one investigation, municipality deputy police chief Heng Pov, said his

investigation would focus on two business disputes over which Sethamony had presided.

Heng Pov said the first was a $6 million dispute between mainland Chinese and Taiwanese

businessmen over the construction of Psar O'Russey.

Pov said Sethamony had issued a summons for the Chinese businessman but, when the

police did not comply with his warrant, Sethamony dropped the summons. The move infuriated

the Taiwanese businessmen who had reportedly spent more than $200,000 on paperwork

for the case. The Chinese man has since left the country.

The second case related to Phnom Penh's Chung Hsin Hotel. A husband and wife, both

Taiwanese nationals, were in dispute over the hotel's ownership. Pov said Sethamony

had issued a warrant that favored the husband after another judge had issued an injunction

against him selling the hotel.

General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said investigators

had collected forensic evidence and interviewed witnesses at the scene of the crime.

"We strongly denounce the perpetrators and we will do our utmost to arrest the

criminals and bring them to justice," he said.

Embassies and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

were also making inquiries into the possible motivation behind the attack.

"Given the cases that he has been involved in, there's a multitude of motives

out there," said one embassy source. "At this stage it's just too early

to tell why it may have happened."

Sethamony was set to preside over the trial of more than 60 people accused of being

involved in the January 29 anti-Thai riots. He had previously adjudicated in some

of the highest profile cases in recent years including the trial of former Khmer

Rouge commander Sam Bith and three trials of Cambodian Freedom Fighters.

Others highlighted the fact that it could be related to one of any number of disputes

on which he had ruled. The international legal expert felt the high profile cases

were unlikely motives.

"My guess is it had nothing to do with any big case. Probably he just pushed

someone too far," he said. "He was one of the worst judges I have seen

in Cambodia. He would just push people to the wall, so [his murder] doesn't surprise

me at all."

His family angrily protested the corruption label at a ceremony to mark his death

held at the Municipal Court on April 24.

"My son was not corrupt," said his 70-year-old grieving mother who had

traveled from Kampong Cham for the ceremony. Sethamony's sister denounced as "evil"

the Khmer newspaper Moneaksekar Khmer which wrote that Sethamony was "very corrupt

and deserved to die" in its headline over a picture of his corpse.

The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC) issued a statement on April 23

saying it was "deeply concerned" at the killing.

"CHRAC believes the killings gravely affect the independence of the judiciary

... [S]uch killings also effect the feelings of politicians who are participating

in political activities before the national elections," it said.

The president of the Municipal Court, Sau Sopheary, said court officials had become

nervous after Sethamony's killing, which followed the murder on April 9 of Appeals

Court clerk Chim Dara.

Sethamony had been a judge at the Municipal Court since 1998. He is survived by his

wife and their two children.

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