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

  • Government denies claims former Thai PM Yingluck issued Cambodian passport

    Government officials on Thursday denied claims that a Cambodian passport was issued to former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who reportedly used it to register a company in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong-based English language South China Morning Post (SCMP) on Wednesday reported Hong Kong

  • Diplomatic passports issued to foreigners to be annulled

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation will move to annul diplomatic passports issued to those not born in Cambodia. Analysts say the move may be in relation to reports that former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra used a Cambodian passport to register as

  • Hun Sen warns Irish MP of EBA ‘mistake’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday told former Irish premier Enda Kenny, still a member of the EU nation’s parliament, that the 28-nation bloc should not make a “third mistake” regarding Cambodia by using the preferential Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement to “take 16 million

  • The hairy little heroes saving many lives in rural Cambodia

    IN RURAL Siem Reap province, rats dare to tread where no person will, as these hairy little heroes place their lives on the line each day for the good of the local community. The rodents are the most important members of a special team, leading