Five people held in pre-trial detention for more than a year over stolen Buddhist relics from Oudong Mountain have been charged with theft by the Court of Appeal.
Yesterday’s ruling came despite charges against the group having been dropped by Kandal Provincial Court in October.
The five were arrested after a golden urn, said to contain remains of the Buddha, was among items stolen from Oudong Mountain on December 9, 2013. The men were charged after other statues stolen from Oudong were allegedly found in the home of Pha Sokhem, the chief security guard.
“We have recharged them with theft, because there is evidence, and we will transfer the case to the provincial court pending a trial,” presiding judge Seng Sivutha said yesterday.
Sivutha added that the five would have “no right to an appeal” to the Supreme Court, which legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said was not unheard of when a judge had ordered a case sent back to a lower court.
Police found the relics on February 6 at the home of 24-year-old Keo Reaksmey in Takeo province’s Traing district. Reaksmey was arrested along with gold seller Siek Sareth, 39, who was convicted of handling stolen property and sentenced to two and a half years on December 11.
Following the theft, Reaksmey had bought an expensive motorbike and car and begun handing out wads of cash to local children while dressed in white robes, locals said in February.
The five defendants – Sokhem, 60; Sieng Sarin, 60; Chom Phay, 58; Ka Sat, 46; and Kan Sopheak, 39 – were brought to court but arrived too late to hear the verdict, before being remanded into the custody of Kandal prison.
“I heard they transferred the case to the provincial court, and if we will have justice, I will be released, because I am innocent,” Sarin said.
Sopheak’s mother, Sey Ket, was upset by the decision after borrowing $5 to travel to the court from her Kandal province home yesterday. Her son allegedly brought wine for the guards to drink on the night of the theft, but she claimed he did not walk up the mountain.
“One cup of wine got him jailed for a year,” she said. “I’m damn miserable without my son’s income to support me. It’s very unfair.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DANIEL PYE