Cambodia Arrests Former Officer Alleging Mistreatment For Seizing Drugs Owned by ‘Powerful Figure’

The former military police officer had posted claims on Facebook that he was fired over the case.

Officers of the Kampong Thom provincial Royal Gendarmerie arrest Sorn Samnieng in Baray district, July 15, 2018.

Authorities in Cambodia have arrested a former military police officer in Kompong Thom province for defaming his unit on social media, after he claimed he was dismissed because he led a raid that seized nearly 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of drugs belonging to a “powerful figure.”

Sorn Samnieng, a former deputy commander of the Royal Gendarmerie for Kompong Thom’s Baray district, was taken into custody on July 15 by the provincial branch of his unit and the provincial prosecutor, Brigadier General Eng Hee, spokesperson of Cambodia’s royal gendarmerie, told RFA’s Khmer Service Monday.

Eng Hee said that Sorn Samnieng had been warned to stop making allegations that he had been unfairly treated because he had dared to make the drug bust, saying the claims were “untrue and had caused confusion among the public.”

“It also affects the dignity of the Royal Gendarmerie, which acts in accordance with the law,” he said.

“If he didn’t do anything illegal, and his case it not stipulated by law, his freedom and rights will not be withheld by the prosecutor. We [the Royal Gendarmerie] don’t have the right to accuse him. We just built the case and submitted it to the court.”

Sorn Samnieng’s arrest came a day after the Royal Gendarmerie issued a press statement denying his claims on Facebook, which he had posted under the name “Yumriech Lokey,” and noting that he had been relieved of duty last year for several incidents, including “causing a traffic accident that resulted in a death,” “firing his weapon illegally,” and “causing his sister-in-law to faint after being violent with her.”

“What he did was against legal procedures,” Eng Hee said of Sorn Samnieng’s firing.

“The inspector conducted an investigation into the cases and punished him, but he didn’t correct himself and went on to commit additional misconduct.”

Prior to his arrest, Sorn Samnieng had posted on Facebook what he claimed was evidence of drug trafficking, including a photo of a Toyota Camry he said had been used in an attempt to transport 172 kilograms (380 pounds) of drugs from Preah Vihear province to the capital Phnom Penh in 2013, before he stopped it in Baray district and arrested its driver, Sor Bunna.

Since the seizure, he said in posts to Facebook, he and his wife separated, he lost more than U.S. $300,000, and he incurred debt after requiring legal services for three years.

“For three years, I could not do any business because of [this case],” he says in one video.

“This car was seized in one of the most important cases, which makes me feel so upset. I was just the one who confiscated it, but I received no recognition in return. They even erased my name from the [Royal Gendarmerie] system, so as to have the case terminated.”

Sorn Samnieng claimed that the Royal Gendarmerie has yet identify the owner of the drugs, and only sentenced the driver of the vehicle to a 20-year jail term, and said he chose to make his allegations public to air his grievances over the injustice he had endured.

“Before I stopped this vehicle, my network [of sources] warned me that I would eventually end up being demoted, or killed, but I did it anyway,” he said, adding that he had also informed his superiors of another drug deal in the capital involving three tons of drugs, which they did not act on.

“I don’t know what to say. I didn’t receive any commendation … I just ended up losing all of my assets. My family was broken up and I became jobless.”

Online support

Several officials with the Royal Gendarmerie had expressed their sympathies in response to Sorn Samnieng’s Facebook posts, including one user named Sdeung Chenda Grk, who told him not to be afraid.

“As a member of the Royal Gendarmerie, I support your cause and ask you to persevere until the end, and I want you to know that millions of others support you and want to see you regain freedom and justice,” he wrote.

Soeung Sen Karona, spokesman for local rights group Adhoc, told RFA that he believes irregularities in the drug bust should be investigated, adding that the press release from the Royal Gendarmerie and the arrest of Sorn Samnieng had only raised further questions about the case.

“To avoid any injustice being rendered against [Sorn Samnieng], there should be a probe by a national commission, because his unit is unlikely to conduct an independent investigation when they are concerned with saving face,” he said.

“[A national commission] could be comprised of members from relevant ministries, including the Ministry of Justice. They should reinvestigate the case so as to clear any doubts against members of the Royal Gendarmerie or other officers who dared to confiscate the drugs.”

At the end of last month, New York-based Human Rights Watch named several high-ranking members of the Royal Gendarmerie as among a core group of senior officials in the security forces propping up an increasingly dictatorial government under Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The group said that Hun Sen has secured his rule by promoting those he deems loyal to him, instead of to the military, gendarmerie, and police institutions they formally serve, adding that the 12 officers it spotlights in its report act as “a kind of Praetorian Guard” to the prime minister and owe their high-ranking and lucrative positions to political and personal connections with him that stretch back for decades.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.