Gov’t probes alleged bribes, release of Chinese prisoners in border province

Top Cambodian officials are investigating how the Chinese nationals were allowed to leave Stung Treng prison.
By RFA Khmer
2024.06.06
Gov’t probes alleged bribes, release of Chinese prisoners in border province A screenshot shows that Eight Chinese men were arrested in Jan. 2024 for crossing the border illegally by the Stung Treng (Cambodia) Immigration Police.
(រដ្ឋបាលខេត្តព្រះវិហារ via Facebook)

Prison officials in Cambodia’s northern Stung Treng province have been accused of taking bribes and then releasing eight Chinese prisoners who authorities said illegally crossed into Cambodia, according to a Ministry of Interior document obtained by Radio Free Asia.

The prisoners had been arrested in neighboring Preah Vihear province after they crossed an international checkpoint between Laos and Cambodia on Jan. 30, Stung Treng Provincial Court spokesman Som Seang Hak told RFA.

The seven men and one woman told police they were smuggled across the border and planned to travel to Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville to find jobs, according to Som Seang Hak.

After their arrest, they were brought to Stung Treng, where they were convicted of trespassing on Feb. 10 and sentenced by the provincial court to four months in prison. 

Stung Treng province lies in Cambodia’s northeastern corner and is split by the Mekong River and two other major rivers. It includes a highway – National Route 7 – that connects with Laos through the Trapaing Kreal border checkpoint.

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But on Feb. 27, the court’s deputy prosecutor, Chea Sopheak, ordered the release of the Chinese nationals, according to Som Seang Hak, who didn’t have an answer when asked for the reason behind the decision.

“As far as the release procedure is concerned, since the eight foreigners have already been tried, it would be better to ask the prosecution,” Som Seang Hak told RFA and then refused to give further comment.

‘This is a large case’

A 12-member committee with officials from both the Justice Ministry and the Interior Ministry will investigate the actions of the provincial court and the provincial prison leading up to the release, an order signed by Interior Minister Sar Sokha on May 2 said.

“The committee will investigate the warrant of the release of the eight Chinese from the court prosecutor, and the order from the prison that released the suspects without informing immigration authorities,” the order said.

Immigration officials had intended to expel the eight Chinese nationals after they completed their sentence, according to the order. They have not been rearrested and their whereabouts were still unknown this week.

“The case is still under investigation. It has not yet been concluded, and I cannot determine when it will end,” Ministry of Interior spokesman Touch Sokhak told The Phnom Penh Post on Thursday. “This is a large case, with links to the involvement of many parties.”

The release almost certainly involves some kind of official corruption, said Chak Chetra, the coordinating officer for human rights group Adhoc in Stung Treng. 

“We request that the ministry tighten the independent investigation to bring the perpetrators or officials who committed these acts to justice to prevent double standards for implementing the law,” he told RFA. 

RFA was unable to reach Chea Sopheak for comment on Thursday.

Translated by Yun Samean. Edited by Matt Reed.

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