A high-profile trial for the former head of the Cambodian anti-drug unit began in Banteay Meanchey province on Thursday, in what rights observers said could signal a warning to other corrupt officials.
Moek Dara, the former secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, faces life imprisonment on charges related to alleged drug trafficking and bribery between 2007 and 2011.
Moek Dara and a subordinate, Chea Leng, are facing 38 counts of trafficking and bribery, following their arrest in January. A third suspect and former official from the same office, Morm Doeun, remains at large.
Nearly 100 armed security forces were deployed around the provincial courthouse as the hearing began, in a trial that involves at least 120 witnesses, among them 37 police officers and 83 prisoners.
Om Yentieng, the chief of the government’s Anti-Corruption Unit, said convictions on even two of the 38 counts could mean a lifetime sentence for the former anti-drug chief.
Sum Chankea, a rights observer for Adhoc in Banteay Meanchey, said the trial could act as a signal to other corrupt public officials. “It is strengthening law enforcement,” he said. “And it is a warning to other government officials not to offend that they will face trial like Moek Dara.”
The hearing comes on the heels of a trial for five other Banteay Meanchey police officials charged with bribery, who were each sentenced between three and four years in prison this week.