Former Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation secretary of state Ahmad Yahya and his nephew Ismail Osman were both sentenced to 15 years in prison on Tuesday after the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found them guilty of human trafficking.
Ahmad, a prominent Cham Muslim community leader, and Ismail, a former member of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, were accused of sending some 20 women to work in Saudi Arabia in 2004, but Ahmad had previously claimed the allegations were part of a smear campaign.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesperson Suos Vichearandy told The Post that the pair was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for “unlawful removal for cross-border transfer” according to Article 11 of the Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation.
“After the court delivered its verdict, the police sent the two men to Prey Sar prison to begin their sentence,” he said.
Last year, the National Police accused Ahmad and Ismail of forging documents to send then-16-year-old Sos Rotors to Saudi Arabia to work as a maid, but Ahmad repeatedly maintained that Rotors had lied about her age.
Last year, after she was rescued, Rotors defended Ahmad as a “good-hearted man” and said she had approached him for the job.
Ismail, who stood as a reserve candidate in Kampong Cham in the 2013 national elections, was arrested on February 7 last year by Interior Ministry police while he was visiting a Cham Muslim community in Chraing Chamreh II commune in the capital’s Russey Keo district.
Following his arrest, the police determined that Ahmad, who had been fired from his job at the Ministry of Social Affairs in 2017 after the allegations came to light, was the ringleader in the human trafficking case through his recruitment agency Accept Group.
The police requested a prosecutor representing the Phnom Penh Municipal Court issue an arrest warrant but, before he was charged, Ahmad denied the allegations and said: “Someone has fabricated a case against me to have me arrested.”
He also denied that Ismail had ever worked for his recruitment agency.
Until his appearance in court on Tuesday, Ahmad had avoided being detained.
He had long maintained he had permission from the government, and even produced a copy of a 2005 prakas titled “permission to allow [Accept Group] to select, train, send and manage Cambodian labourers to work in Saudi Arabia” as proof. The prakas was allegedly signed by then Minister of Labour and Vocational Training Nheb Bun Chhin.
Soeng Sen Karuna, the senior investigator at rights group Adhoc, noted that unlike his nephew, Ahmad had not been detained, despite a warrant having been issued for his arrest.
He said Ahmad’s appearance at Tuesday morning’s trial was probably because he wanted to prove he was “truly innocent”, but said the presiding judge had the discretion to decide whether someone was guilty or not.
“He can appeal if he feels the judge’s decision is unfair to him,” he said.