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Nuon Chea Defense Files Suit on Corruption

Foreign lawyers for jailed Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea filed a complaint on Thursday to Phnom Penh Municipal Court, claiming widespread corruption within the Khmer Rouge tribunal jeopardizes their client.

“People who pay kickbacks cannot be independent,” Michiel Pestman, the leading international defense attorney, told reporters outside the Municipal Court, joined by assistant attorneys Victor Koppe and Andrew Ianuzzi.

Nuon Chea, 84, chief ideologue of the Khmer Rouge and lieutenant to Pol Pot, was arrested in September 2007 and faces charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

But Pestman said his client could not receive a fair hearing under a corrupt system.

“We are seriously worried about the legitimacy of the court and also worried that our client will never get a fair trial if people are paying kickbacks to people higher up,” he said.

The complaint stems from a number of allegations over tribunal judges and staff that began in February 2007, when tribunal monitors reported that Cambodian staff members had paid a portion of their salaries to Cambodian government officials in exchange for the opportunity to work for the tribunal.

The Cambodian government rejected the claims, but fresh allegations from Cambodian staff members to the UN arose in June 2008, leading to the suspension of $300,000 in salaries on the Cambodian side of the courts.

Nuon Chea’s lawyers have written requests for an explanation of the allegations to both tribunal administrators and to Council Minister Sok An.

“But nothing happened,” Pestman said Thursday, adding that he did not know the number nor the names of staff who may have paid kickbacks. “I want the prosecutors to investigate the allegations.”

Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said he did not have detail’s of Thursday’s complaint, but said the tribunal continued to investigate the allegations of corruption.