Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Appeals Court Upholds Candlelight’s Thach Setha’s Verdict On Bad Checks

Candlelight Party vice president Thach Setha leaves the Appeal Court after losing his bail hearing in Phnom Penh on March 30, 2023. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
Candlelight Party vice president Thach Setha leaves the Appeal Court after losing his bail hearing in Phnom Penh on March 30, 2023. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

The Appeal Court on Monday upheld Candlelight party leader Thach Setha’s guilty verdict decision made by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for issuing bad checks. 

In September last year, Setha was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison by the Phnom Penh court for allegedly issuing five fake checks in 2019. He was fined three million riel and ordered to pay the plaintiff $33,400 in outstanding debt and an additional five million riel in compensation.

In response to the judge’s question, Setha, who was dressed in an orange uniform and standing alone in the courtroom, said, “It is my signature on the checks, but I did not issue all these checks.”

“I wanted to see the original checks to re-check and investigate because these days signatures can be fabricated,” he added, noting that since the investigation at Phnom Penh Municipal, the original checks have not been produced while the plaintiff’s was a copy. 

“This has been irregular since the issuance of the warrant. I propose the dropping of the unfair charges,” Setha continued. 

His lawyer Em Chantha also asked the plaintiff and judge to show the original checks and investigate, and not just claim that the copies of the checks are evidence. If they do not produce the original checks, it means that they do not have them, Setha’s lawyers said, while urging his charges to be dropped. 

“We have asked to see the original checks in the Phnom Penh Municipal court but we have never seen them, so the original one does not exist,” another defense lawyer for Setha, Choung Choungy said. “Please reject the verdict and release my client.” 

Responding to Setha’s request, the court prosecutor and the plaintiff’s lawyer, Thim Sopheap, said Setha’s request to see the original checks and wanting to re-investigate those checks are not necessary as the investigation has been closed since the inquiry phase. 

In making a final judgment, Ly Sokleng, the Appeal Court judge said, “The court has already checked and it’s unnecessary to investigate, as the accused actually committed [the crime].” He said if the accused and his lawyers are not satisfied with the verdict, they can appeal to the Supreme Court.

Speaking to CamboJA, Choungy felt that the verdict was unfair for his client and will discuss with Setha and his family whether they want to pursue the case further.

Setha’s wife Sok Borany told CamboJA that the conviction is unacceptable because her husband and lawyers already proved that he did not issue the checks and asked that the original checks be produced, yet the court sentenced him.

“It’s unfair for him because he did not issue the checks. He [the plaintiff] just showed the copy and my husband was sentenced to one and a half years [jail] and the verdict was upheld,” she said.

Borany added that she will discuss with her husband and lawyers whether to appeal against the decision in the Supreme Court, where she hopes he will get justice. 

Human rights NGO Licadho operation director Am Sam Ath said Setha’s case is not much different from other political and human rights’ activists who were convicted. He opined that Setha’s case happened after he became vice president of the Candlelight party, stating that he faces another lawsuit, which is a form of incitement.

He continued that the case might be politically-motivated rather than an enforcement of the law because of an alleged crime. “It is an attempt to increase the crime burden on Setha, something that might not allow him to return to politics.”