Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Arrests in Malaysia: Uncertain future for detainees

By Brooke Lewis and Buth Reaksmey Kongkea

Arrests in Malaysia:

MALAYSIAN officials said yesterday that 74 Cambodian nationals were arrested and detained in Malaysia on Saturday, amending earlier reported figures of the number detained.

Raja Saifful Ridzuwan, minister counsellor at the Malaysian Embassy in Phnom Penh, said yesterday that the group was composed of 43 adult males, 16 adult females, nine boys and six girls.

“They are being held at the immigration depot in Johor pending further investigation and subject to whether they will be charged and sent to court or not,” he said.

“Initial investigation showed that this group probably stayed in Malaysia for some time so we are trying to ascertain how they came into the country.” Ridzuwan added that none of the detainess possessed travel documents for Cambodia or any other country.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Koung said Cambodian officials would try to repatriate the group as quickly as possible.

“We will try our best to help our people return back to their homes,” he said.

Public projects to empower poor: state

By Buth Reaksmey Kongkea

Secretary of State and Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday that the government on Friday approved 447 planning projects, aimed at accelerating social development and progress in Cambodia, to be implemented over the next three years through 2013.

“The Council of Ministers has approved 447 planning projects rolling out over three years including 183 projects requiring a total of almost US$2.7 billion which are under implementation, and another 264 national strategic development planning projects,” said Phay Siphan.

“These projects are very important because they are prioritized projects aimed at providing for the long-term interests and social safety nets for the poor who mostly live in rural areas in Cambodia.”

He added that the main purpose behind the approved projects was to empower people through healthcare, sustainable development, economic growth and the strengthening of Cambodia’s economic base.

The projects were jointly prepared by the Ministry of Planning in collaboration with the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the Supreme National Economic Council, and the Cambodian Development and Rehabilitation Committee, and are jointly financed by the Cambodian government and donor partners.

Their primary focus is infrastructure, including roads, bridges, schools, health centres and irrigation.

In June, donors pledged a record US$1.1 billion to Cambodia for the upcoming 18-month period.

Phay Siphan said he was unsure about the amount of the government’s financial contribution.

Finance firm suspects seek pre-trial release

By Buth Reaksmey Kongkea

Two executives from a dubious international finance organisation who were charged with forgery last month are seeking release from detention while the court continues its investigations.

Chuon Sunleng, deputy president of the Appeal Court, said yesterday that the suspects – Ray C Dam and Soush Saroeun – would seek out-of-prison detention at a court appearance scheduled for January 27.

“The main purpose of the hearing is to consider the request of the two suspects to stay outside [of prison] during the investigations,” he said.

Chuon Sophal, Dam’s lawyer, said his client sought release because of how long investigations were taking.

“I noted that the court has worked slowly in investigating my client’s case,” said Chuon Sophal. “Therefore, I would like to appeal to the court to authorise my client to stay outside detention during the investigations.”

Last month, the suspects were charged with forging documents alleging connections to HSBC Bank, the United States government and the United Nations. Ray C Dam, the chairman of ARP-OITC Group Co Ltd, and Soush Saroeun, the firm’s executive managing director, were charged under four articles from the Kingdom’s new penal code, which went into effect in December.

The case follows an October report in The Post that investigated ARP-OITC and its parent company, the Office of International Treasury Control, questioning the groups’ grandiose claims and raising concerns over possible fraud.

Chhay Sinarith, director of the Internal Security Department at the Ministry of Interior, said yesterday that while Dam was being arrested, he mention his alleged credentials.

“While being arrested, Ray C Dam said that he was an advisor to US President Barack Obama and also an advisor to the president of Cambodia’s senate,” he said.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge Chang Sinath said yesterday that a hearing date for the case had not been set.

“We are still investigating [the suspects] and we cannot say more about them now,” she said.

Two days after the suspects were arrested, an Australian national who claimed to be the “chief of cabinet” for OITC fled the country.

OITC officials have previously been implicated in financial scandals in Ecuador, Fiji and the United Kingdom.

75 workers detained in Malaysia

By Buth Reaksmey Kongkea

A TOTAL of 75 Cambodian nationals have been arrested in Malaysia for staying in the country illegally, officials said yesterday, updating unconfirmed reports earlier this week that 65 people had
been detained.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said yesterday that the group was mostly made up of women and children, some of whom had overstayed their visas.
“These Cambodian people are now being detained in one place in Malaysia,” he said.

“Our embassy now is also working hard and contacting Malaysian authorities in order to bring them back to their homes in Cambodia. I hope that they will be brought back to their homes soon.”

Meas Saneth, programme director for the NGO Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility, said the group – which had likely entered the country to look for work with the help of illegal brokers – was
arrested by immigration police in Malaysia’s Johor province on Saturday.

“My organisation is now also working hard to contact these detainees in Malaysia in order to know about their living conditions, health and safety,” he said.

Raja Saifful Ridzuwan, minister counsellor at the Malaysian embassy in Phnom Penh, said he had also received reports of the Cambodians’ arrest.

He said the group was being detained at an immigration centre in Johor province, but was unable to provide more detailed information, saying embassy officials were still investigating the case.

“By tomorrow we can get more information,” he said.

He said he did not yet know whether or not the group would be repatriated but that in either case, they would have to face a Malaysian court first.

“By law they will be questioned by our officials and sent to the court for illegally staying in Malaysia, because they broke the law,” he said.

Malaysia has become an increasingly popular destination for Cambodian migrant workers, with the number of Cambodians seeking work there increasing by about four times over the past two years.

A total of 20,909 Cambodians – among them 18,038 domestic workers – were given visas in the first eight months of last year, according to figures provided by the Malaysian embassy.

A total of 12,682 Malaysian visas were issued in all of 2009, on top of 5,304 in 2008.

Court sets Seng Chenda verdict date

By Buth Reaksmey Kongkea

Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge Sin Visal announced yesterday that he would hand down a verdict on January 26 in a contentious case brought against the wife of a prominent businessman and four others accused of attempted murder.

“Due to the complexities of the case, the court will continue its conclusions about these five defendants and will officially announce their verdicts on the morning of January 26,” Sin Visal said.

Seng Chenda, 48, wife of tycoon Khaou Chuly, and four accomplices have been charged with attempting to murder Suv Chantha, Khaou Chuly’s daughter from a previous wife. Suv Chantha is married to Sun Chanthol, vice chairman of the Council for the Development of Cambodia and a former minister of public works.

All five accused have pleaded not guilty.

Seng Chenda reiterated her innocence in court yesterday.

“I have not committed the acts for which I’m charged. I think this is a trick by His Excellency Sun Chanthol’s family,” she said.

“I would like to deny these charges against me, and I would like the court to find justice for me.”

Pal Chandara, the lawyer representing Suv Chantha, told the court yesterday that police interrogations and confessions taken from suspected accomplices Chan Sokha, Neang Sinath, Khorn Lak and Yin Sophearith proved that they were ordered by Seng Chenda to carry out the murder of his client.

“Seng Chenda is the mastermind of this attempted murder, and these four people were involved,” he said.

The four alleged accomplices have testified previously that police and Sun Chanthol forced them to provide false confessions.

Lim Vanna, the lawyer representing Seng Chenda, dismissed the charges as an attempt by Sun Chanthol to victimize her over conflicts with her husband’s children from a previous marriage.

Seng Chenda and her four alleged accomplices were charged under Article 3 of the Law on Aggravating Circumstances for Felonies, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Illegal migrants: 49 detainees will not be prosecuted

By Buth Reaksmey Kongkea

MALAYSIAN authorities had decided not to prosecute 49 members of a group of 74 Cambodian nationals who were arrested and detained in Malaysia for working there illegally, Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said yesterday.

The group – including 43 men, 16 women, nine boys and six girls – was arrested on January 1 by immigration police in Malaysia’s Johor province for not holding proper travel or work documents.

Koy Kuong did not explain yesterday why Malaysian immigration officials had decided not to prosecute 49 of the detainees and said he did not know when the group would be released and repatriated to Cambodia.

He said, however, that officials are still investigating the cases of the remaining 25 members of the group, who may have to face court in Malaysia.

“I am pleased Malaysian authorities have decided not to fine our 49 Cambodian people,” he said. “I would like to request the Malaysian party to fine none of these 74 people and to release them back to their homes in Cambodia.”

Ya Navuth, executive director of the NGO Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility, said the detainees could expect to face “many fines and punishments” if convicted. BUTH REAKSMEY KONGKEA

Pirate attack: Rescued Cambodians repatriated

A TOTAL of 15 Cambodian fishermen who were attacked in early November by Somali pirates were repatriated in December, the spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday, amending a statement last week indicating that the victims had not yet returned.

The 15 Cambodian nationals were among 23 victims – including seven Thais and one Yemeni policeman – who were attacked 70 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia by pirates, who hijacked their ship and later sunk it.

The fishermen were rescued while adrift in the Gulf of Aden by a Thai ship, the HTMS Pattani.

Koy Kuong said yesterday that the Cambodian victims were taken to Oman and then Thailand, before being sent back to the Kingdom.

“These people were safely returned to their homes since December 4, 2010,” he said.

Last week, Koy Kuong said the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok was “still working hard with Thai naval forces to find out [where they are] and to bring them back to their homes”. BUTH REAKSMEY KONGKEA

Trapped in Taiwan

ByButh Reaksmey Kongkea and Brooke Lewis

Aven, now 24 years old, says she agreed to fake a marriage to a Taiwanese broker and move abroad some five years ago because she thought it would enable her to earn enough money to support her family in Kandal province.

Speaking upon her return to Phnom Penh yesterday, however, Aven – who requested her real name to be concealed and is identified here only by her Taiwanese moniker – said the broker confiscated her passport and sold her into slavery almost immediately after their arrival in Taiwan in late 2005.

“A week after I arrived in Taiwan, I was sold to work with a … vegetable company there,” she said.

“I was forced to work whole days without rest or pay. I didn’t receive enough money as I was promised.”

Instead, Aven said, she had only been paid enough to cover the cost of meals.

After working for a year as a vegetable seller, Aven was then sold to a plastic manufacturing company, where she worked for a further three years for almost nothing, she said. Aven described her renumeration at that job as being “like an allowance” that was dolled out at the discretion of her employers.

Aven said that though she had quickly realised she was being exploited, she had no hope of escaping and returning to Cambodia.

“I wanted to come back but my passport was taken away,” she said. “I cried every day.”

In early 2009, Aven was picked up by Taiwanese immigration police and contacted her mother, who reached out to the NGO Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility, CARAM Cambodia’s executive director Ya Navuth said yesterday.

He said CARAM Cambodia organised for Aven to be relocated to the organisation’s shelter in Taiwan, where she stayed until returning to Phnom Penh yesterday.

Speaking to reporters upon her return, Aven’s voice broke as she described how she had naively agreed to the fake marriage plan, a decision that she attributed to her own lack of education and opportunities.

“I would like to appeal to Cambodian girls to go to school and study higher education so that they will have higher knowledge and education and they can find good work and not be cheated or trafficked by the brokers,” she said.

“I would like to appeal to Prime Minister Hun Sen to generate more work for Cambodian people so that they will not leave their families and country for work abroad, otherwise they will be cheated and trafficked for labour like I was.”

Prosecutions unlikely
Ya Navuth said CARAM was currently “collaborating with police” to find out the identity of the broker involved in Aven’s case, but noted that it was unlikely the investigation would lead to a prosecution.

He said CARAM had been involved in repatriating more than 20 women trafficked to Taiwan since the beginning of 2009, but that it had proved “hard to find” the brokers involved.

“For the cases in Taiwan, we’ve never seen any brokers prosecuted by the courts,” he said. “Never.”

He said the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Centre, a local NGO, has estimated that more than 5,000 Cambodian women have been trafficked to Taiwan through fake marriages “over the past few years”.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said yesterday that the government had in recent years tightened regulations for marriages between Cambodian nationals and foreigners.

“The government of Cambodia has taken strict actions and measures to prevent the people, especially women, from human trafficking via ... fake weddings,” he said.

The government last year introduced new screening mechanisms requiring that foreigners looking to marry Cambodians appear in person to submit applications to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Interior Ministry and the offices of local authorities.

Ya Navuth said yesterday that such measures could help limit human trafficking, but would not eliminate it.

“It can help, but not 100 percent,” he said, noting that rising unemployment levels could also exacerbate the problem.

“I think that if the government can create more job opportunities for people in Cambodia, less people will be looking for solutions abroad,” he said.

Aven, who was met in Phnom Penh by her parents yesterday, said she was relieved to be home.

“I am now very happy that I survived and was able to return to meet my family and country,” she said.

“I thought I wouldn’t be able to return.”

Journalists arrested on suspicion of extortion

By Buth Reaksmey Kongkea

Two Cambodian journalists, including the deputy head of a local press association, were arrested yesterday on suspicion of extorting a commune chief after accepting money from undercover police officers.

Sok Sovann, president of the Press Council of Cambodia, said the journalists were arrested at the Sorya bus station in Phnom Penh by police posing as middlemen in a transaction.

He said the arrested journalists include Kang Arun, vice-president of the PCC, and Prum San, a reporter with the Kampuchea Sachak newspaper.

The police, he said, were acting on a complaint received from Leng Horm, the chief of Pram Yam commune in Kampong Cham province’s Srei Santhor district. Leng Horm alleged the two journalists forced him to pay US$300 in return for not publishing stories about his poor management of the commune.

“[The journalists] were arrested while receiving a total of US$200 from policemen who disguised themselves as taxi drivers and brought money from the commune chief for them in Phnom Penh,” said Sok
Sovann.

He said the accused had been sent to Kampong Cham provincial police headquarters and would appear at provincial court today.

“I am now very concerned about these two journalists’ fate because the police have strong evidence to punish them within the law,” said Sok Sovann. “I’m afraid that they will not avoid charges.”

Sok Sovann said he would send a letter to the Kampong Cham police chief, on behalf of the PCC, to keep the accused from being charged.

Leng Horm could not be reached yesterday.

Sex crime: Teenager on child rape charge

By Buth Reaksmey Kongkea

Battambang provincial court on Sunday charged a 15-year-old boy with the rape of a 7-year-old girl in Thma Koul district, police said.

Chan Nareth, deputy chief of the provincial Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Office, said Heng Virak was arrested on Thursday at his home in Samrong village, in Tameun commune, following a complaint from the girl’s parents. According to the complaint, Chan Nareth said, Heng Virak raped the victim on January 6 while her parents were working in their rice field.

“After raping [her], the offender returned to his home and the victim told her mother many days later,” he said.

Krouch Chhanpov, a monitor for local rights group Adhoc based in Battambang, said that this was just the latest in a string of similar incidents in the province. On December 21, she noted, Seng Saro, also 15, was charged with the rape of his 6-year-old female cousin at his home in Samlot district. Seng Saro was arrested on December 18 following his arrest and is currently in detention awaiting trial.

“I think that the reason why in recent years many boys have raped girls is because they have watched sex videos or have been seen their parents’ sexual activities openly in their houses … so they practiced it,” she sa

Drug cases to be tried in B’Meanchey

Buth Reaksmey Kongkea

Ousted anti-drug czar Moek Dara will be tried in Banteay Meanchey province in connection with a bribery case that has ensnared a number of senior officials, court staff said yesterday.

Moek Dara, formerly the secretary general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs was arrested last week along with Chea Leng, the former chief of the anti-drug office at the Ministry of Interior.

The pair were reportedly implicated by former Banteay Meanchey provincial police chief Hun Hean and his deputy, Chheang Sun, who were themselves arrested earlier last week.

“Since this case happened in Banteay Meanchey, their hearing will be held in Banteay Meanchey at some point in the next six months,” Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy prosecutor Ton Sihak Teches said.
“We don’t know yet whether they will be tried on the same day or not.”

Ang Meal Tei, head of the Banteay Meanchey provincial court, said on Sunday that Moek Dara, Chea Leng, Hun Hean and Chheang Sun had been charged with receiving bribes under the Kingdom’s new penal code, which punishes the offence with a sentence of between seven and 15 years jail.

Ton Sihak Teches said, however, that the four had been charged with corruption under Article 38 of the UNTAC criminal code, an offence which carries a prison term of between three and seven years in prison.

“I am the only person who has charged these people in Banteay Meanchey,” he said.

Moek Dara was sent to Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh after being charged on Sunday, Ton Sihak Teches said, while Hun Hean and Chheang Sun are at Siem Reap provincial prison and Chea Leng is in Banteay Meanchey.

“We decided to send Moek Dara to be detained at Prey Sar because his health is not good and he has easy access to health facilities in Phnom Penh,” he said.


CRACKDOWN in banteay Meanchey
Key suspects
Moek Dara, secretary general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, charged with receiving bribes
Chea Leng, chief of the anti-drug office at the Ministry of Interior, charged with receiving bribes
Hun Hean, Banteay Meanchey provincial police chief, charged with receiving bribes
Chheang Sun, Banteay Meanchey deputy provincial police chief, charged with receiving bribes
Lim Mab, Chief of anti-drug police in Banteay Meanchey, possession of counterfeit money and possession of illegal drugs
Nuon Vanna, head of Banteay Meanchey provincial prison, under investigation for allegedly accepting bribes allowing a prisoner to escape
By Nasy, administrative chief of Banteay Meanchey anti-drug office, under investigation in bribery case

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Drivers concerned over new road tolls

By Buth Reaksmey Kongkea

DRIVERS of heavy vehicles expressed concern yesterday about the impact of a newly introduced toll along a road with numerous old bridges in Kandal province’s Sa’ang district, saying it could cut into their bottom line.

On Monday, traffic police began handing out fines of between 5,000 and 10,000 riel (US$1.25-$2.50) to drivers of vehicles weighing more than 15 tonnes or carrying more than their legal capacity. The tolls cover the use of National Road 21, which had previously been free.

Ty Sarith, a 29-year-old truck driver, said he had been using the road for free to transport cargo for more than three years.

“I’m wondering why I’m forced to pay for this crossing. My vehicle weight is only two-and-a-half tonnes, and does not [have a significant] impact on roads or bridges in this area,” he said. He added that the new charges could make it hard to support himself.

“I think that if I’m required to pay for road or bridge crossings, I will not gain benefits from my transporting services,” he said.

Tith Sopheak, a police official operating a weighing station along the road, said the toll was introduced in an attempt to prevent overloaded vehicles from ruining the roads.

“We have not forced them to pay the money on purpose,” he said, adding that bridges in the area could also be damaged by overladen vehicles.

“The reason why we decided to require vehicles or truck drivers to be weighed before crossing the bridges is because they have been carrying overloaded cargoes that are more than the bridges’ capacity.”

75 workers detained in Malaysia

By Buth Reaksmey Kongkea

A TOTAL of 75 Cambodian nationals have been arrested in Malaysia for staying in the country illegally, officials said yesterday, updating unconfirmed reports earlier this week that 65 people had
been detained.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said yesterday that the group was mostly made up of women and children, some of whom had overstayed their visas.
“These Cambodian people are now being detained in one place in Malaysia,” he said.

“Our embassy now is also working hard and contacting Malaysian authorities in order to bring them back to their homes in Cambodia. I hope that they will be brought back to their homes soon.”

Meas Saneth, programme director for the NGO Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility, said the group – which had likely entered the country to look for work with the help of illegal brokers – was
arrested by immigration police in Malaysia’s Johor province on Saturday.

“My organisation is now also working hard to contact these detainees in Malaysia in order to know about their living conditions, health and safety,” he said.

Raja Saifful Ridzuwan, minister counsellor at the Malaysian embassy in Phnom Penh, said he had also received reports of the Cambodians’ arrest.

He said the group was being detained at an immigration centre in Johor province, but was unable to provide more detailed information, saying embassy officials were still investigating the case.

“By tomorrow we can get more information,” he said.

He said he did not yet know whether or not the group would be repatriated but that in either case, they would have to face a Malaysian court first.

“By law they will be questioned by our officials and sent to the court for illegally staying in Malaysia, because they broke the law,” he said.

Malaysia has become an increasingly popular destination for Cambodian migrant workers, with the number of Cambodians seeking work there increasing by about four times over the past two years.

A total of 20,909 Cambodians – among them 18,038 domestic workers – were given visas in the first eight months of last year, according to figures provided by the Malaysian embassy.

A total of 12,682 Malaysian visas were issued in all of 2009, on top of 5,304 in 2008.

Monk to marry after rape scare

By Buth Reaksmey Kongkea

The former chief monk of a pagoda in Kratie province’s Chhlong district was released from police custody on Wednesday after a woman he was accused of raping leapt to his defence and claimed the sex was consensual.

Thim Narin, provincial coordinator of rights group Adhoc, said Wednesday that the monk – now defrocked – was detained on Tuesday after the woman’s family filed a complaint alleging he raped the woman in a rice field.

Keo Pisey, chief of the provincial office of anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection, said Wednesday that after police questioned the monk and his 29-year-old “victim”, they came to the conclusion that “he and the woman really loved each other” and that the “intercourse was consensual”.

“The former pagoda Buddhist monk chief was released after he confessed his deep love for the woman and agreed to marry her, with the approval of the woman and her parents,” she said.

Keo Pisey said the couple met each other at Chroy Peakmeak pagoda in Prek Chamlak village and kept in touch over the phone for more than a month before they decided to meet during a ceremony on Tuesday.

“He took his monks’ clothes off so no one would be suspicious,” she said. When the woman’s parents couldn’t find their daughter, they assumed that she had been raped by the undercover monk and filed a complaint to police.