PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – A spokesman for a special Cambodian genocide tribunal said Thursday that a decade-old royal pardon does not guarantee full immunity from prosecution for Leng Sary, the former Khmer Rouge foreign minister.
Leng Sary, 76, received in 1996 a royal pardon from former King Norodom Sihanouk in exchange for leading a mass surrender of Khmer Rouge guerillas to the government. The pardon was granted at the request of the government, grateful to have thousands of Khmer Rouge guerrillas cease their struggle.
"He is saved by the pardon from one crime — genocide. You can get away with one crime but not every crime that you have committed," said Reach Sambath, a spokesman for a joint Cambodia-United Nations tribunal officially called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.
The pardon effectively nullified a conviction for genocide handed down against Ieng Sary by a special tribunal in 1979. Some observers have said that the trial was essentially a political show trial held by a communist regime installed by Vietnam after Hanoi's troops ousted the Khmer Rouge from power.
Reach Sambath made his comments as prosecutors build their cases for prosecuting surviving Khmer Rouge leaders responsible for the deaths of nearly 2 million people during their 1975-79 period in power.
He added, however, that it will be up to prosecutors and judges to decide on the exact charges and who to indict.
Reach Sambath said Cambodian and U.N.-appointed prosecutors are expected to hand over preliminary results of their investigations to the mixed group of Cambodian and foreign judges before the end of the year.
The judges will then act on the prosecutors' work, he said, adding that indictments could be announced early next year.
The spokesman was clarifying an answer to a question about the pardon that appeared in the frequently-asked-questions section of the tribunal's official Web site, launched Thursday.
"It will be up to the judges to decide on the scope of this pardon" for Ieng Sary, the answer read. "Even if he cannot be retried for genocide, there may be other charges that could be brought against him on the evidence available."
Ieng Sary, as one of the Khmer Rouge's inner circle, has been considered a potential candidate for trial, but many people feared he might escape justice due to the pardon.
Reach Sambath said many people have asked questions about Ieng Sary in various public forums held to raise awareness about the purpose of the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
"They try to get a clear message from us. They want to know whether if you've got amnesty for one crime, you cannot be tried for another crime," he said.