Thursday, September 22, 2011

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

"Economic adviser" to Obama charged with forgery in Cambodia

Ray Dam (C) and Suos Saroeun (R) (Photo: The Phnom Penh Post)
Dec 23, 2010

Phnom Penh - Police in Cambodia arrested a man claiming to be an adviser to US President Barack Obama and head of an international finance organization that stores its assets in caves and sunken ships.

Ray Dam and associate Soush Saroeun were charged with forgery Monday after being arrested at Dam's home in Phnom Penh. They were accused of forging documents alleging connections with HSBC Bank, the US government and the United Nations.

The pair had been operating a self-described international real-estate consultancy known as Asia Real Property out of modern offices in the Cambodian capital.

Asia Real Property's promotional materials identified the firm as a subsidiary of a group called the Office of International Treasury Control that claimed to be 'the largest single owner of gold and platinum bullion in the world,' holding cash and treasure in a variety of clandestine locations.

'Much of the treasure is buried in tunnels, bunkers and caves and in sunken ships,' the group said in an investment presentation. 'Further treasures are hidden all around the world.'

Dam is identified on the group's website as the 'sole arbiter ... of the Tripartite Gold Commission,' which was a post-World War II organization that searched for gold stolen by Nazi Germany and was dissolved in 1998. The website also said Dam was an adviser to Obama and his predecessor George W Bush.

Police said Dam and Saroeun had been advertising financial services to foreign joint venture partners in company documents claiming a connection to HSBC Bank. If convicted, they face a maximum of 16 years in prison.

According to an investigation report from police, Dam was born in Cambodia, fleeing the country for the US in the 1970s before returning in the early '90s. US embassy officials said they had been unable to confirm whether he holds US citizenship.

Officials from Cambodia's Ministry of Finance lodged a complaint against Dam and Saroeun after learning that the pair were operating without a real-estate licence. A government spokesman said Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had ordered an investigation after learning that Dam had been posing as an adviser to the president of Cambodia's Senate

The view from outside the city

Thursday, 23 December 2010
Neang Sokchea & Kounila Keo
The Phnom Penh Post

Ever since urban centres were formed in Cambodia, usually around centres of trade and industrythere has been an understanding gap between people living in the rural areas and people who became accustomed to life in the city.

Ethnic groups tended to stay in the rural areas, and because they have been separated from places like Phnom Penh, they are seen, and often see themselves as foreigners in their own country when they come to the capital city.

In order to facilitate a greater sense of understanding and community between rural and urban populations, Khmer Community Development, officially established in 2005, invited 750 youth from 7 minority groups in Cambodia to join each other for a weekend of dialogue, activities and developing relationships.

Ngach Pheaktra, a tenth grader from Mondulkiri province, took part in the camping activity and said that, because this was his first trip to Phnom Penh, he sometimes felt like an outsider.

“I feel strange walking along the buildings and houses here. They are all made of brick, while our houses back in our villages are made of wood,” he said, adding that his home doesn’t have too many mosquitoes and he rarely goes on difficult journeys, but his homeland does have mountains, trees and wild animals.

Ngach Pheaktra says Phnom Penh seems much more dangerous, with all of the vehicles moving around the city. “I do not feel secure at all when I am in Phnom Penh. I heard of robbery and rape,” he said. “Compared to Phnom Penh, my village is much better off and safer,” he added.

For Kham Sopheap, a 17-year-old and twelfth grader from Rattanakiri province who is part of one of the ethic minorities in the area, told Lift that she can hardly breathe in Phnom Penh, unlike here village where there are plenty of trees and therefore lots of fresh ait. As a child, she faced a discrimination from students who asked her why she even came to school when she could not speak any Khmer. By the time she was eight, however, she was able to speak Khmer well enough to converse with her classmates.

“There are some things I like about Phnom Penh and other things I don’t like,” she said. “I like it for its amusement parks and the Royal Palace, but I certainly do not like when Phnom Penh is too crowded.”

Lat Bunart, an eleventh grader from Ratanakiri, said that she feels like Phnom Penh is a place only for wealthy people, whereas her village doesn’t require people to be rich. “People in my village are so friendly and welcome the poor and the rich, but people here seem so busy with their businesses and work,” she said. “In our village we spend the day farming and have much more free time to enjoy life.”

Lakeside deadline looms [-How would Kep Chuktema like to be offered 5 million riels ($1,250) to be evicted from his house?]

Residents of Village 23 on the edge of Boeung Kak lake dismantle their homes yesterday to make way for a controversial lakeside development. (Photo by: Pha Lina)
Thursday, 23 December 2010
Chhay Channyda
The Phnom Penh Post

Tuol Kork district authorities have given 18 families living in Boeung Kak lake’s Village 23 one week to dismantle their houses, accept compensation and relocate to Dangkor district.

Affected residents say their homes, which lie in the path of a planned access road to the controversial Boeung Kak lake development, will be bulldozed if they fail to meet the deadline.

Resident Ou Norleak, 38, said on Thursday that in a Wednesday meeting between deputy district governor Pich Keo Mony and the families, authorities said they will take drastic measures against those who resist.

“We can’t accept this because we have lived here for years,” Ou Norleak said. “Please Samdech Hun Sen, help your children. We will not be able to build a new house with this compensation.”

Huy Sokhon, another resident from Village 23, described the authorities’ actions as “dictatorship”.

In October, district governor Seng Ratanak told the families to remove their homes and accept a land plot in Dangkor district and 1 million riels (US$250), to make way for the widening of the access road R8 by developer Shukaku Inc.

Ek Yoeun, an official at the Tuol Kork district office, said Thursday that he did not join the meeting, but claimed the authorities had increased the compensation payout to 5 million riels ($1,250), up from the previous offer of 1 million.

“I heard some people asked for $50,000. The government’s policy is only to give a land plot in Kork Ksach village [in Dangkor district] and a small amount of money,” he said.

Duch appeal hearings set for March

(Photo: Reuters)
Thursday, 23 December 2010
James O’Toole and Cheang Sokha
The Phnom Penh Post

The Khmer Rouge tribunal’s Supreme Court Chamber will hear the appeal of former Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav in March of next year, the court said in a statement Thursday.

The notorious jailer, better known as Duch, was sentenced to 30 years in prison in July by the court’s Trial Chamber after being found guilty of crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. The court said his appeal hearings will take place “during the last week of March 2011”, adding that the exact dates and times of the hearings will be announced “in due course”.

“We expect that [the hearings] will be public,” court spokesman Reach Sambath said. “I think the court will always be full of people.”

Duch’s lawyers filed an appeal against the judgment last month, charging that their client falls outside the court’s mandate to investigate “senior leaders” and those “most responsible” for crimes committed under the regime of Democratic Kampuchea.

The appeal followed the shocking turnabout last year during closing arguments when, after accepting limited responsibility and essentially pleading guilty through months of hearings, Duch asked to be acquitted and released.

The court’s prosecutors have also appealed against the July verdict, claiming that judges had given “insufficient weight to the gravity of Duch’s crimes and his role and his willing participation in those crimes”.

They have called on the Supreme Court Chamber to sentence the defendant to 45 years in prison, reduced from a life sentence due to Duch’s unlawful pre-trial detention.

“There comes a point where the crimes committed are sufficiently grave and the offender sufficiently notorious, or in such a position of authority, that the highest sentence must be imposed,” the prosecutors wrote in their appeal. “That point was reached and passed here.”

41 civil parties have also appealed, requesting either that the court declare their claims admissible or amend their reparations award.

Cambodia: New Penal Code Undercuts Free Speech

Seng Kunnaka, a Cambodian employee of the World Food Programme in Phnom Penh, was imprisoned for incitement under article 495 of the penal code after he shared articles with two co-workers that he had printed from the internet. (Source: KI-Media)
Man Jailed for Sharing Web Articles With Co-Workers

December 23, 2010
Source: Human Rights Watch
"Charging someone with incitement for sharing web articles is a profound setback for free expression in Cambodia." - Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
(New York) - The Cambodian government's use of its new penal code against a man who shared web articles with his co-workers is a huge step backward for free expression in Cambodia, Human Rights Watch said today. The man was quickly convicted on incitement charges and sentenced to prison.

Human Rights Watch called on the Cambodian government to amend the penal code, which went into effect on December 10, 2010, to remove provisions that limit the peaceful expression of political views so that the law fully complies with international standards.

"Charging someone with incitement for sharing web articles is a profound setback for free expression in Cambodia," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Cambodia's new penal code should have put an end to abusive practices, not encouraged new ones."

On December 18, Seng Kunnaka, a Cambodian employee with the United Nations World Food Program in Phnom Penh, was arrested on charges of incitement under article 495 of the new penal code after he shared an article with two co-workers. While the contents of the article are unclear, it was printed from KI-Media, a website that publishes news, commentaries, poetry, and cartoons that are sharply critical of the government, including a recent series of opinion pieces lambasting senior officials regarding a border dispute with Vietnam.

On December 19, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court hastily tried and convicted Kunnaka, sentencing him to six months in prison and fining him 1 million riels (US$250). December 19 was a Sunday, when the courts are normally closed.

During the last two years, more than 10 critics of the government, including journalists and opposition party activists, have been prosecuted for criminal defamation and disinformation based on complaints by government and military officials under the former penal code.

The new penal code places greater restrictions on free expression, Human Rights Watch said. Responding to media inquiries about the case, Cambodia's information minister, Khieu Kanharith, said: "Before, using the argument of ‘freedom of expression' and opposition party status, some people could insult anybody or any institution. This is not the case now."

"A dubious arrest so soon after the new penal code came into effect shows that the Cambodian government is ready to use its new legal powers to criminalize peaceful expression and political dissent," Robertson said. "And Cambodia's pliant courts seem all too willing to throw any perceived government critic in prison after a rushed trial."

Under the new penal code, incitement is vaguely defined in article 495 as directly provoking the commission of a crime or an act that creates "serious turmoil in society" through public speech, writings or drawings, or audio-visual telecommunication that are shared with, exposed to, or intended for the public. It does not require the alleged incitement to be effective for penalties to be imposed, which include prison terms of six months to five years and fines.

The new penal code also allows criminal prosecutions for defamation and contempt for peaceful expression of views "affecting the dignity" of individuals and public officials, as well as of government institutions. It makes it a crime to "disturb public order" by questioning court decisions.

"The new penal code makes it more risky for civil society activists to criticize corrupt officials, police, and military officers who commit abuses or question court decisions," Robertson said. "This is particularly troubling in Cambodia, where the judicial system is weak and far from independent, with court decisions often influenced by corruption or political pressure."

KI-Media is a controversial website that describes itself as "dedicated to publishing sensitive information about Cambodia." The website's editors, who have never publicly identified themselves, compile information from a variety of sources, including leaked and public government documents, Cambodian-language newspaper articles, and Chinese, Cambodian, and Western wire service reports. It also posts hard-hitting commentaries, blog articles, cartoons, and poetry from its readers - most of whom are sharply critical of the government.