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Government streamlines asset freeze steps to battle major criminals

Taing Vida / Khmer Times Share:
Police and ministry officials can now get asset freeze approval directly from prosecutors over crimes such as drug trafficking, illegal logging, money laundering and other offences. KT/Chor Sokunthea

The government has streamlined the process of freezing the assets of major criminals as it continues to tackle major crimes across the Kingdom including drug trafficking, illegal logging, money laundering and other offences.

In a statement obtained by Khmer Times yesterday, Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana said the National Police and investigators at relevant ministries can now get approval directly from court prosecutors to have the assets of criminal suspects frozen.

Previously, only police could make the request, and the process was so complicated that not many officers did so as their requests first had to go to the prosecutor and then the investigating judge before being approved.

The statement added that authorities can also freeze the assets of those suspected of human trafficking and terrorism financing.

The statement said the decision to give officials outside the Justice Ministry more authority comes as a result of an August 8 meeting between the Interior Ministry, Anti-Corruption Unit, the National Committee for Counter-Trafficking, Military Police, National Police, the National Authority for Combatting Drugs and court leaders.

“Police must continue to investigate these large-scale drug cases and send seized assets to the courts,” Mr Vong Vathana said in the statement. “Courts must cooperate with police to further investigate related assets and proceed with the freezing.”

“The move aims to improve the procedure and to make it easier to freeze assets,” he added. “The Justice Ministry will soon organise guidelines and disseminate them to authorities.”

The statement was co-signed by Interior Minister Sar Kheng, who is instructing authorities to freeze the assets of those “circulating dirty money in the country”.

National Police spokesman Lieutenant General Chhay Kim Khoeun yesterday said the measure was designed to cut redtape and aid authorities in their battle against major criminal network, while also responding to public concern regarding assets held by criminals.

Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana. KT/Chor Sokunthea

“Police have made many requests to the courts to freeze the assets of drug offenders, but the procedure was too complicated,” Lt Gen Kim Khoeun said. “The courts have never issued a single decision. Money, houses and land ought to be frozen.”

He said if the process of freezing assets remains difficult, it could create an image that Cambodia is a haven for dirty money.

The Justice Ministry statement follows a directive issued by the Council of Ministers last week allowing the Ministry of Agriculture and NCFCP to request court prosecutors to freeze the assets of illegal logging suspects.

Brigadier General Eng Hy, spokesman for the NCFCP, yesterday said the final decision rests in the hands of municipal and provincial courts.

“The committee can now make requests, but it cannot decide to have assets frozen,” Brig Gen Hy said. “The final decision lies with the courts. These assets can also serve as evidence in court.”

Over the past few months, authorities have been cracking down on major crimes, such as illegal logging. They have so far arrested two well-known timber tycoons, Soeng Sam Ol and Kong Kroeng.

Him Yun, director of the Coalition for Integrity and Social Accountability, yesterday said he supports freezing assets, but noted that transparency is also important.

“It’s important to manage assets seized from offenders because these are also evidence,” Mr Yun said. “I also hope that authorities ensure transparency in the handling of seized assets.”

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