Government officials declared in a press conference yesterday that this week’s high-profile conviction of Seng Chenda, the wife of local tycoon Khaou Chuly who was sentenced on Tuesday on attempted murder charges, represents a model for the Kingdom’s courts.
Seng Chenda received a 20-year jail term on Tuesday for attempted murder for masterminding a plot to kill Suv Chantha, her husband’s daughter from a previous marriage, as well as Suv Chantha’s daughter.
Suv Chantha is married to Sun Chanthol, vice chairman of the Council for the Development of Cambodia and a former minister of public works and transport.
At a press conference yesterday at the Council of Ministers, Sun Chanthol appeared alongside government lawyer Pal Chandara and Suy Mong Leang, deputy director general of the secretariat for the
government’s justice and judicial reform programme. The trio hailed the judgment against Seng Chanda as a bellwether of Cambodia’s strengthening judiciary.
“I have been monitoring the court and the court has conducted its work according to legal procedures without intimidation, threats or monetary influence,” Suy Mong Leang said. “We are proud of the result of judicial reform because we have trained many judges and prosecutors.”
Tuesday’s verdict capped a dramatic trial conducted over five hearings. Three accomplices – Khorn Lak, a 20-year-old security guard for Khaou Chuly, Chan Sokha, 38, a maid for Khaou Chuly and Neang Sinath, 25, a maid for Sun Chanthol – were also sentenced.
During the trial, several of the accused recanted confessions given in police custody, claiming they had been intimidated and forced to confess by law enforcement officials and Sun Chanthol.
Chan Sokha and Neang Sinath both said police forced them to meet with Sun Chanthol, whom they said had threatened them and their families. Sun Chanthol denied yesterday that he had influenced the case and rejected “painful” accusations that he had fabricated the affair in order to seize property from Khaou Chuly.
“The criminal attempted to kill my wife and my daughter,” he said. “[Tuesday’s] verdict brought me justice.”
Pal Chandara also rejected any allegation of impropriety on the part of Sun Chanthol.
“I have to defend the honour of a member of the government, and this verdict brought justice to a member of the government,” Pal Chandara said.
The Cambodian Centre for Human Rights had staff on hand to monitor the trial. CCHR president Ou Virak said yesterday that the case appeared to be procedurally sound, though he called the 20-year sentence “very, very harsh”.
“The fact that this case involves a very high-ranking government official … it’s certainly not a normal case, and the sentencing is certainly not normal,” he said. “I don’t think we can go as far as saying this is a beacon of how the judicial reform has taken place.”
Ou Virak said the allegations of forced confessions were “similar” to those made by defendants in other trials, though he urged the government to investigate the claims.