Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - A year after trial, still free

A year after trial, still free

Former Bavet town governor Chhouk Bandith (centre) leaves the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh last year
Former Bavet town governor Chhouk Bandith (centre) leaves the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh last year. Heng Chivoan

A year after trial, still free

One year ago today, ex-Bavet town governor Chhouk Bandith smiled as he sat before a judge at the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh on the first day of his trial for shooting and badly injuring three unarmed garment workers at a protest in Prey Veng one year prior.

Some four months later, Bandith was found guilty of “unintentional violence” – a charge widely decried by rights groups as too light – and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Bandith, however, was never arrested after the conviction came down and remains at large today, and could legally dodge prison forever if he keeps up his vanishing act for a few more years.

According to Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, which oversees Cambodia’s police forces, officers are still hunting for the elusive ex-governor, but leads are scarce.

“We would like to announce publicly that if anybody knows any news about Chhouk Bandith, please report to us, and we will give a reward and we keep [their identity] secret,” he said.

But Suon Bunsak, executive secretary for the NGO umbrella group Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, dismissed the police’s oft-repeated protestations as so much hot air yesterday.

“They say, ‘I’m looking for him, I’m looking for him’, but they never try,” Bunsak said.

“If it was somebody else besides him, that person would have been jailed before the trial,” he said.

Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said yesterday that if Bandith manages to stay away for five full years – the statute of limitations on misdemeanours like unintentional violence – he could legally resurface a free man.

“If he absconds for five years, he can come back freely,” Sam Oeun said, noting that such a practice is not uncommon in cases involving the rich and well-connected.

“If he has escaped from Cambodia and is in a safe place, his lawyer has no need to appeal, because after the statute of limitations, the decision is final.”

Victim Keo Near, meanwhile, said she had given up hope on seeing Bandith behind bars.

“Now, not only do we not receive justice, but we always get sick because of having been shot,” she said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Prince injured, wife dies after accident

    THE wife of former First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Ouk Phalla, 39, died while the prince was “severely” injured following a road accident in Preah Sihanouk province’s Prey Nub district on Sunday morning, officials said. Rananriddh, who is also the president of the Funcinpec

  • Guards protest dismissals, reject claims of sharing naked photos of child

    Some 20 former security guards at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh protested on Tuesday against their dismissal. They accused their employers of falsely claiming they had viewed and shared child pornography from their mobile phones as grounds for their termination. In total, 32 personnel were dismissed

  • We’re going to Wisney World!

    More than 6,000 mostly Chinese attendees witnessed the inauguration ceremony of a $1 billion Sihanoukville resort project called Wisney World in the capital on Wednesday. The event on Koh Pich, attended by several senior Cambodian government officials, is a joint venture between China’s AMC International and

  • Funcinpec urges probe into deadly Preah Sihanouk accident

    THE Funcinpec party has urged the government, especially the Ministry of Interior, to investigate the traffic accident in Preah Sihanouk province which left Prince Norodom Ranariddh badly injured and his wife Ouk Phalla dead. Funcinpec Vice President You Hokry told reporters at Botum Votey pagoda,