The chief judge at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, which is pursuing a controversial murder case, has been replaced in a shake-up at the behest of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Thong Sarath, a businessman and military general, was named a prime suspect following the November murder of powerful business tycoon Ung Meng Chue. Thong Sarath appears to have fled the country, but his parents and five of his bodyguards are currently in jail.
The parents, Thong Cham Roeun and Keo Sary, were arrested in December after authorities found a cache of weapons during a raid of their home. They were released on bail earlier this month but re-arrested Sunday during an apparent bid to leave for Vietnam.
In a speech Tuesday, Hun Sen said he was outraged the parents had been granted bail in the first place. He called on the Supreme Council of Magistracy, which oversees the courts, to make quick changes at the court.
“I’m asking the Supreme Council of Magistracy to take an immediate action on this case at whatever cost," he said.
Hours after Hun Sen’s order, the chief of Phnom Penh’s court, Ang Maldey, was fired and replaced by his subordinate, Taing Sun Lay.
The case has been filled with controversy from the beginning. Many question if Thong Sarath is being targeted for prosecution because of a falling out with Hun Sen and other senior members of the ruling Cambodian People's Party.
The firing of the chief judge is likely to reinforce a belief by some that the case is politically motivated. Human rights groups frequently accuse the Cambodian judiciary of lacking independence from political and military leaders.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.