PHOTO: MAY TITTHARA
The former prosecutor of Pursat province was handed a 19-year prison sentence yesterday after being found guilty of corruption, extortion and false imprisonment.
The verdict, made at Pursat Provinicial Court, marks the first high-profile jailing to follow an arrest by the government’s Anticorruption Unit, with commentators hailing it a positive step for transparency in Cambodia.
During Top Chan Sereyvuth’s trial last month, it was alleged that had ordered his employees to extort money from a man transporting wood through the province on June 24. The plantiff, Khol Soknha, said he was illegally detained by the Top Chan Sereivuth’s staff in Pursat’s Krakor district and forced to hand over US$3,000 in order to secure his release.
Presiding judge Duch Chantha announced Top Chan Sereyvuth’s guilty verdict yesterday and ordered him to pay four million riel (US$1,000) in compensation.
Top Chan Sereyvuth’s bodyguards, Chhit Vuthy and Ro Samnang, were found guilty of the same charges and sentenced to 16 and 15 years in jail, respectively.
The former prosecutor’s brother-in-law, Pich Kong You, was found guilty in absentia and ordered to serve 18 years in prison. He remains at large.
Mam Sitha, president of Cambodian Independent Anti-Corruption Committee, said yesterday that the verdict was fair given the serious nature of the crimes. She added that as the first court action recorded since the ACU was established last year, it illustrated that measures to act against corruption were going well. “The sentence is also a message to alert some government officers to be afraid of carrying out corrupt activities,” she said.
Residents of Pursat province, scores of whom had turned up to witness the trial, also welcomed the jail term yesterday.
Villager Te Thea, 50, of Pursat town, said yesterday that the former prosecutor’s abuse of power was unacceptable. “He will meet those he arrested and put in prison. He will know the taste of life in jail,” he said.
Chea Sitha, a resident of Banteay Meanchey province’s Poipet town, also hailed the sentence, claiming Top Chan Sereyvuth had unfairly imprisoned him in connection with a land dispute in 2008 while a judge at the Banteay Meanchey provincial court. “He sent innocent people to jail,” he said.
Top Chan Sereyvuth’s lawyer, Kea Chhay, indicated yesterday that an appeal could be filed to challenge the verdict. He added that the court should have dropped the charge of illegal detention, claiming the former official had the power to order an arrest.
Anticorruption Unit head Om Yentieng was not available for comment yesterday, though he said earlier this week that cases against figures such as Top Chan Sereyvuth could be few and far between. “Arresting a judge for a judge to sentence is not easy,” he said.