The trial of a security guard linked to the mysterious murder of prominent Cambodian environmentalist Chut Wutty has been called a sham by the activist’s family and rights groups, as the five-month old hearing came to an end Thursday.
They said a provincial court abruptly concluded the trial of logging company security chief Rann Borath, charged with killing a military police officer who the court says fatally shot Chut Wutty.
The activist was murdered while investigating illegal logging in Mondul Seima district of southern Cambodia’s Koh Kong province on April 26.
The court set Oct. 8 for the verdict of the trial of Rann Borath, the chief of security of Timber Green Logging Co., who is charged with the unintentional murder of military police officer In Rattana.
The officer was reportedly found dead around the same area where Chut Wutty was found slumped in a car in a pool of blood.
Chut Wutty’s wife, Sam Chanthy, said she believed there were more people linked to her husband’s death beyond Rann Borath and In Rattana and that the court had not conducted a thorough inquiry before closing the trial.
She believed there was a “ringleader” who ordered the killing of her husband and that the authorities were hushing up the murder, which had sparked an international outcry and added to concerns over human rights abuses in Cambodia.
“It was the ringleader of the illegal logging operations that ordered my husband killed. I don’t think In Rattana wanted to kill my husband,” Sam Chanthy told RFA’s Khmer service at the end of the hearing.
Sam Chanthy said the court had also not allowed her to testify in the case and suggested that Timber Green could also be linked to her husband’s murder. She did not provide details.
The court was expected to hold a hearing on both In Rattana’s and Chut Wutty’s killings Thursday, but court officials said they would not investigate Chut Wutty’s murder because the suspect, In Rattana, was already dead and therefore the case was closed.
Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator for local rights group Licadho, said the court wanted the blame placed on the dead man as a way of making sure it did not have to investigate the murder of Chut Wutty.
“The court wanted to close the case on the grounds that In Rattana is already dead,” he said, adding that the trial was “set up.”
According to Am Sam Ath, Cambodia’s criminal code states that any criminal case will be closed if the perpetrator dies.
He added that rights groups in Cambodia find it difficult to believe that Rann Borath unintentionally killed In Rattana.
The military police had given conflicting accounts immediately after Chut Wutty was found dead, sparking accusations of a government cover-up.
The activist was involved in organizing communities to protect the forests from land grabs and illegal logging and had campaigned against the government's granting of land concessions in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
His murder was the highest-profile death of a Cambodian activist since the 2004 assassination of labor activist Chea Vichea, whose killers have never been found.
Four months after Chut Wutty’s death, Hang Serei Oudom, a journalist who had exposed illegal logging and forest crimes involving local elites in Ratanakiri province, was found dead in the trunk of his car.
Authorities have arrested a military police officer and his wife as suspects in the case.
Reported by Vichey Anandh for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.