Court’s ex-chief arrested on corruption charges

By: Buth Reaksmey Kongkea

Disgraced former Phnom Penh Municipal Court president Ang Maltey was arrested yesterday afternoon under allegations of widespread graft, according to a military police official.

National Military Police spokesman Brigadier General Kheng Tito said Maltey was arrested at the headquarters of the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) following two days of questioning by the body over the allegations.

According to Tito, Maltey was still being “temporarily detained” there yesterday evening, and would be brought to the municipal court this morning for further questioning.

ACU head Om Yentieng and spokesman Keo Remy could not be reached for comment following the arrest.

But in a message circulated to the media earlier in the day, Yentieng confirmed that Maltey had been answering questions from the ACU since Tuesday.

“He was questioned by the ACU related to the case of Thong Sarath’s parents [being] released and his other irregularities when he was appointed as the president of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court,” he wrote.

Maltey was dismissed from his position as head of the capital’s court in February after he drew the ire of Prime Minister Hun Sen by allegedly accepting bribes from the parents of fugitive tycoon Sarath to secure their release on bail.

The couple – who are facing charges of possessing illegal firearms – were arrested days later as they allegedly attempted to flee to Vietnam.

Following Maltey’s dismissal, his aide, Brigadier General Pich Prumhmony, was arrested and charged with pressuring judicial officials. He has been detained in the capital’s Prey Sar prison since his arrest on February 19.

Kem Santepheap, spokesman for the Supreme Council of the Magistracy (SCM), confirmed yesterday that an SCM inquiry into Maltey’s tenure was completed last week.

While he would not reveal details of the probe, he said that following its closure, the SCM had given the ACU the green light to take action against the disgraced official.

Neither Ly Sophana, a prosecutor at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, nor Maltey’s lawyer could be reached for comment yesterday.

Observers and rights groups have widely dismissed claims that the judiciary acted independently in ordering Maltey’s dismissal.

In a February statement, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) expressed concern that his “swift removal” had been the result of executive interference.

Ou Virak, head of the Future Forum think tank and a former CCHR chairman, said yesterday that Maltey’s arrest cemented “the absolute control of the executive [over] the court”.

“It’s a dangerous thing,” he said. “It has nothing to do with justice, nothing to do with reforms of judiciary.”

Virak added that the arrest, which he said was significant because of Maltey’s seniority, marked a “major step backwards for rule of law”.

Regarding any future judicial action against the former judge, he said “there’s no possibility of a fair trial . . . as in most cases” in Cambodia.

But government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday touted the arrest as evidence that justice is being served even to the most elite in the kingdom.

While he acknowledged that the arrest was part of a “commitment by the prime minister” to clamp down on corruption, he dismissed allegations that the executive was interfering with the court.

The government wants the “bad judge and the bad people in the court, but we are not responsible for what the court decides”, he said.

Responding to the premier’s critics, he added: “Cambodia has freedom of expression; everyone can do anything.