Police officials in Svay Rieng province are offering widely varying stories as to the legal status of Bavet town deputy police chief Sar Chantha, with one yesterday confirming his arrest and ongoing detention in connection with a 2012 shooting and another claiming ignorance of even a warrant for that arrest.
The warrant in question was filed by Svay Rieng provincial prosecutor Hing Bunchea earlier this month, following Chantha’s December conviction for illegal weapons possession. The conviction was in connection with a February 2012 incident in which Bavet’s then-governor Chhouk Bandith fired live rounds into a crowd of protesters at the Kaoway Sports factory, injuring three women. Bandith remains at large.
Svay Rieng deputy police chief Khiev Sokhorm yesterday confirmed that Chantha had been detained for some time.
“[Chantha] is being questioned at the provincial police department, where he has been for the past three days,” Sokhorm said, before declining to comment further.
However, Bavet town police chief Keo Kong offered a different version of events, insisting he had not even seen a warrant for Chantha’s arrest, and maintaining that Chantha’s presence at provincial police headquarters was work-related.
“I sent him to the provincial police office for a one-week training session,” Kong said. “I do not remember the day he went there, but it was last week.”
Bunchea, the prosecutor who signed the arrest warrant, yesterday said he had made inquiries about the arrest, but had not heard from police regarding whether the warrant had been executed. “I have not received any information yet,” said Bunchea, who added that he had checked in on Monday.
Chantha’s legal status is a mystery even to his attorney, Mon Keo Siven, who said he has been unable to find anyone who can enlighten him as to his client’s whereabouts or legal status. Keo Siven said information about his client is being closely guarded.
“I could not get in touch with the court, Chantha or his family to see if he has been arrested,” Keo Siven said yesterday. “It seems that all the information related to him is being hidden.”
Such disparities of information between law enforcement institutions is not uncommon in Cambodia, Pech Pisey, director of programs at Transparency International Cambodia, said yesterday.
“There is an issue of conspiracy and keeping information from the public,” Pisey said. “Usually the authorities try to hide information from them.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEAN TEEHAN