Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Supreme Court Hears Thach Setha’s Appeal Against Fake Checks, Verdict on May 31

Candlelight Party vice president Thach Setha arrives at the Supreme Court for hearing in Phnom Penh on May 20, 2024. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)
Candlelight Party vice president Thach Setha arrives at the Supreme Court for hearing in Phnom Penh on May 20, 2024. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)

The Supreme Court on Monday heard the appeal of former opposition Candlelight Party vice president Thach Setha, who was convicted in September 2023 for issuing fake checks in 2019. The court will give its verdict on May 31.

In September last year, Setha denied the charges made by a lower court, stressing that he never issued the checks and appealed against the decision but the verdict was upheld in the Court of Appeal in January this year.

He was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and fined three million riel for allegedly issuing five fake checks. In addition, he was ordered to pay an outstanding debt of $33,400 to the plaintiff and an additional five million riel in compensation.

On Monday’s appeal hearing, presiding judge Nil Non interrupted defense lawyer Son Chum Chuon’s argument about the municipal court’s verdict, which failed to consider the right to a fair trial in accordance with international law. He said Setha should have been shown the evidence, which led to his conviction, but the court failed to do so.

“Don’t come [here] to teach me. This court [follows] national laws, [not] international laws. I’ll give you two minutes to speak,” Non said. “Please only raise the mistake of the [lower court’s] verdict, where it was wrong,” he said.

Chum Chuon replied that Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s decision was unacceptable. “The entire [verdict] did not consider the international law which states that my client has a right to a fair trial, which he didn’t get,” he said.

He pointed out that Cambodia is a member of the United Nations, and had ratified the international covenant on the right to equality before the courts and tribunal, and right to a fair trial. However, when his client demanded to see the alleged fake checks, the courts never produced the evidence.

At the court, Setha, dressed in an orange prison uniform, was seen standing by himself. He pleaded to the judges of the highest court in the land to acquit him of all the charges, as he “never issued the checks” in 2019. 

“Please show the original checks if they are real. I [wouldn’t mind] being prosecuted,” he said. 

Another of Setha’s lawyers, Choung Choungy, called on the judge to drop the case against his client because “copies” of the checks “cannot be used as evidence”. “It is a mistake producing copies as evidence because they’re easy to forge,” he said. 

Recall that Setha was arrested in January last year for the alleged issuance of the checks in 2019. He failed to appear before an investigating judge in 2021 after the  complainant, Hay Vanrin, who owns Rin Chhay pawnshop, lodged a report. Vanrin allegedly has business ties with the ruling CPP.

Both Vanrin and his lawyers were not present at the hearing. Vanrin could not be reached for comment while lawyer Tim Sopheap declined to comment on the checks, reiterating that the letter by the Foreign Trade Bank “clearly stated that Setha had no funds in his account”. 

“It is the procedure of the court, so I cannot comment on [original checks]. It is at the discretion of the court,” she told CamboJA News.