A court in Cambodia has sentenced Hun Chea, a nephew of Prime Minister Hun Sen, to 18 months in prison following a whirlwind trial that took place on the same day he was arrested for firing a gun during a domestic dispute.
Hun Chea, who is also a three-star general, had been drinking on the evening of May 1, when he fired off at least 10 rounds near his home in the capital Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district, according to local authorities.
He was arrested the following morning, sent to the Ministry of Interior for questioning, and was in trial by afternoon at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, where Judge Ros Piseth handed him the 18-month sentence for “making death threats” and “intentionally damaging property.”
The Phnom Penh Post quoted Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak as saying Hun Chea had “shot into the air” and that no one was hurt during the incident. It was not immediately clear who he had threatened or what property was damaged.
Sok Eysan, spokesman for Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), told RFA’s Khmer Service that “anyone who breaks a law shall be held accountable before the law,” adding that the court’s decision showed authorities are working to “ensure that our laws are implemented, and that such arrests are not influenced by anyone.”
The speed with which Hun Chea was arrested, tried, and sentenced, is a rarity of in Cambodia’s court system, where legal cases routinely drag on for months.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Y Rin told the Post that, in Hun Chea’s case, authorities invoked a provision which allows the court to open a hearing immediately if the prosecutor has all of the evidence needed to convict—a procedure that legal expert Sok Sam Oeun confirmed exists, but said is used infrequently because “there are very few cases like that.”
Hun Chea, the son of Hun Sen’s older brother, Hun San, had numerous run-ins with the law from 2000-2011—including as the result of his alleged involvement with his cousin Hun To in a 2001 shooting incident in the capital that left two people injured. While the cousins were briefly jailed, the case against them was dropped due to “insufficient evidence” that they were in possession of weapons at the time.
In 2008, he was involved in a hit-and-run accident that left a motorist dead.
Despite several arrests, Hun Chea has always been released after a brief detention, and any charges against him have been dropped.
San Chey, the executive director for the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability (ANSA), said he found it amusing that Hun Sen had promoted his nephew to the rank of three-star general, despite his legal history.
He called on authorities to ensure that cases facing Hun Sen’s relatives are “addressed seriously” and that Hun Chea serve out his sentence.
Hun Chea’s conviction is likely to frustrate the prime minister ahead of general elections set for July 29, which the CPP has sought to legitimize, despite a Supreme Court ruling in November that dissolved its only real challenger—the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP)—for its alleged role in a plot to topple the government.
The court ruling also comes months after Hun Sen ordered authorities to “shoot on sight” Hun San’s son-in-law Thai Pany if he resisted arrest, following the bust of two large cockfighting rings he was alleged to operate. Thai Pany, also known as Thai Mab, was detained and charged in December 2017.
A July 2016 report by London-based Global Witness found that Hun Sen’s family members are “amassing vast personal fortunes in Cambodia’s private sector, and wield significant control across most of its lucrative industries,” and they have been accused of exploiting their status to bypass the country’s laws.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.