Customs Chief Questioned Again in Waste Case

Suspended Customs Director In Saroeun appeared for the second time at the Sihanoukville Court on Friday in connection with the toxic waste scandal that jarred the seaside town in December, a court official said Saturday.

In Saroeun is perhaps the most prominent of more than 100 government officials suspended following the importation and discovery of the mercury-tainted waste from Taiwan and is one of nine people currently being investigated by the court. He was first questioned by court officials Jan 7.

Mam Muth, the court’s prosecutor, said Saturday only that In Saroeun showed up at the court on Friday.

“I do not have details,” Mam Muth said by telephone.

Huon Many, the court’s director and investigating judge, could not be reached for comment Saturday or Sunday. He is in charge of the court’s ongoing investigation of how the waste ended up in Cambodia, set to  wrap up within four months.

In Saroeun, too, could not be reached for comment.

According to an Interior Min­istry source close to the investigation, court officials had been concerned that In Saroeun was ignoring their attempts to further question him.

“They were forced to issue a special letter that had to be delivered by the police,” the source said.

Mam Muth said recently that any of the nine men currently being questioned by the court could be arrested if they refused to cooperate with the court.

“The ministries have given us the permission [to detain],” he said in an interview at his office on Jan 23.

The nine officials currently being investigated are: In Sa­roeun, Seang Chantry, Lonh Vannak, Sun Somphal and Ny Sean of the Finance Ministry’s customs department; Tep Vuthy and Chheng Sopheap of the Interior Ministry’s economic police unit; Kheng Vichet from Interior’s border police; and Penh Chheng from the Commerce Ministry’s product inspection unit, Camcontrol.

Additionally, court officials are expected to call seven more economic and border police officials to Sihanoukville for questioning, the Interior source said.

Only one arrest has been made in the case. Sam Moeurn, operator of the Cambodian Muth Vu­thy company, has been in jail since his arrest Dec 21.

It remains unclear how much Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics Corp paid to import the waste and who received the money.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said recently that some of the more than 100 officials suspended from their posts are not pleased and are claiming their innocence.

“Some claim they are innocent but others must be involved,” Khieu Kanharith said. “We have to let the court decide and clear those who should be cleared.”

In Saroeun said last week that he is innocent, and maintained he did not know the waste was toxic.

In his Jan 7 statement to court officials, In Saroeun said the first time he knew about the shipment of waste was when the ship arrived at port Nov 30.

“Before the Muth Vuthy company brought the goods in [to the port], the company did not contact me,” In Saroeun said, according to court documents.

After customs officials in Sihan­oukville delayed unloading the containers of waste, In Saroeun helped facilitate their import “because I worried about the delay of goods unloading which can affect the profit of the company,” the customs director told the court in January.

(Additional reporting by Chris Decherd)   

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