Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni has stripped 36 senior police officers of their coveted “Okhna” status, a title of nobility increasingly used by those holding it to enable corruption and claim immunity from prosecution following the commission of crimes, according to reports.
Those now losing the title include Deputy National Police Commissioner Kheng Somet, sources say.
The title is given by royal decree to anyone who has contributed at least U.S. $500,000 to Cambodia’s government, and many who hold the title first amassed vast fortunes through successful business ventures in the country.
In August, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered members of Cambodia’s military and police holding the Okhna designation to choose between their official and private titles, with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party acknowledging the move was made to minimize conflicts of interest and unfair advantage in business deals.
Next month, Cambodian Senate President Say Chhum—acting as head of state during the king’s brief absence from the country—stripped the title from 75 top military officers.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, environmental activist Heng Sros said however that many holding Okhna status outside the military and police also commit crimes, encroaching on village land and engaging in illegal logging.
Cambodia has long suffered the rampant smuggling of logs and timber—often with the complicity of local authorities—to neighbors such as China and Vietnam, where the wood is used to make high-end furniture.
Removing offenders’ Okhna designation alone will not be enough to prevent further crime, Heng Sros said, calling on the government also to strictly enforce its laws.
“We must investigate everyone who uses the Okhna title given by the King to conduct illegal business,” he added.
Also speaking to RFA, San Chey of the Cambodian office of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability (ANSA) agreed, calling on the government to draft conflict-of-interest laws to prevent officials from abusing their power.
“Even without Okhna status, they can still use their positions to commit crimes,” he said. “I don’t think that this present strategy can reduce cases of abuse of power.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.