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Cambodian genocide lawyer hits at corruption issue

Written By vibykhmer on Friday, April 3, 2009 | 8:39 AM


Saturday, April 4
By GRANT PECK, Associated Press Writer

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - An international prosecutor at Cambodia's genocide tribunal accused a defense lawyer Friday of a "strategy of disruption," saying his focus on corruption allegations is an attempt to undermine the court's legitimacy.
Belgian co-prosecutor Vincent de Wilde lashed out at French lawyer Jacques Verges for "explicitly and fundamentally challenging the legitimacy" of the tribunal working to find justice for atrocities of the 1970s Khmer Rouge "killing fields" regime.

The accusation came after the flamboyant Verges, best known for defending Nazi war criminals and terrorists, attempted to introduce reports of tribunal corruption in a legal hearing Friday.

Verges was speaking at a hearing for his request for pretrial release of his client, former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan, who is charged with crimes against humanity related to the communist movement's 1975-79 rule, under which an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died.

Corruption reports involving the tribunal surfaced in 2007, when New York-based legal group Open Society Justice Initiative alleged that Cambodians on the tribunal staff had paid for their jobs. Results of a U.N. investigation were not publicly revealed.

Judges on Friday told Verges he could not bring up the corruption issue in the context of the appeal for his client's release, but he managed to speak about it indirectly by suggesting he sympathized with the court.

"I shall keep silent because it's not good to be shooting at ambulances and victims and the wounded," Verges said. "It is not good to be shooting at horses and dying people or institutions."

De Wilde retorted that Verges' comments were part of a "strategy of disruption" on the part of the defense, which de Wilde asserted had refused to cooperate with the tribunal's administration.

He suggested that Khieu Samphan's lawyers might not be competent to defend their client.

Charging that the defense was willfully disrupting and delaying proceedings to keep justice from being done, de Wilde asked, "Can this be tolerated?"

Verges was the second defense lawyer in two days to try to introduce the corruption issue into their appeals for their clients' release. On Thursday, the lawyer for Ieng Sary, the former Khmer Rouge foreign minister, tried to argue that the failure to resolve the corruption allegations could delay the trial of his client indefinitely, so he should be allowed to leave the tribunal's jail for house arrest instead.

The lawyer, Michael Karnavas, at a press conference after Thursday's proceedings, called for a U.N. report investigating the corruption allegations to be made public.

Lawyers for Nuon Chea, the chief Khmer Rouge ideologue, also had brought up the issue earlier this year.

The defenders' arguments appeared to be in vain, however. A press release from the tribunal Friday said the judges handling the pre-trial hearings decided that they did not have jurisdiction to investigate corruption.

Trial observers including human rights groups have expressed concern about the corruption issue.

London-based Amnesty International urged the United Nations and the Cambodian government to address allegations.

The charges cast "serious doubts on the chambers' competence, independence and impartiality," it said.

"Any corruption allegations must be investigated promptly and thoroughly," said Brittis Edman, Amnesty International's Cambodia researcher. "A failure to do so risks undermining the credibility of the whole institution and what it is trying to accomplish."

The U.N.-assisted tribunal represents the first serious attempt to hold Khmer Rouge leaders accountable for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians from starvation, medical neglect, slave-like working conditions and execution. The group's top leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998.

It began its first trial on Monday, of Kaing Guek Eav - also known as Duch - accused of running a torture center from which as many as 16,000 men, women and children were sent to their deaths.

The other defendants, Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary and his wife Ieng Thirith, who was minister for social affairs, are expected to be tried sometime over the next year.

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