Lawyer for Khmer Rouge’s Nuon Chea threatens to seek US$1 million in damages over dismissal from international tribunal

  • Victor Koppe was dismissed on the advice of Cambodia’s bar association, which said he had been unregistered as a lawyer in the Netherlands since 2016
  • Koppe’s lawyer claims her client’s dismissal was illegal and has accused tribunal officials of distributing misinformation about the case
PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 December, 2018, 6:58pm
UPDATED : Monday, 17 December, 2018, 10:59pm

A lawyer representing a Khmer Rouge leader who was sentenced to life imprisonment last month is threatening to seek up to US$1 million in damages over his dismissal by the international tribunal that handed down the sentence.

Victor Koppe was dismissed on Thursday on the advice of Cambodia’s bar association, which said that the Dutch national had not been a member of the bar in the Netherlands for nearly three years and should not therefore be practising law in Cambodia.

He nonetheless appeared in court on November 16 to witness the verdict against his client, 92-year-old Nuon Chea, for committing crimes against humanity including genocide.

It is unclear what effect, if any, Koppe’s dismissal will have on the verdict, which is now at the appeals stage.

Britta Boehler, Koppe’s lawyer, claims her client was given permission to appear by the tribunal’s defence section chief Isaac Endeley.

In an email addressed to a number of tribunal officials and seen by the Post, Boehler describes Koppe’s dismissal as illegal because Cambodia’s bar association only requires foreign lawyers to be a member of the bar in their home country at the point of registration, not on a continuing basis.

She further accused tribunal spokesman Neth Pheaktra of distributing misinformation about the case before suggesting an amount that would be sought in compensation for damages including “punitive damages”.

“Mr Koppe reserves the right to seek monetary compensation for all damages incurred or to incur in the future,” she said in the email. “Presently, I estimate the compensatory damages to amount to US $1 million.”

Pheaktra, who has dismissed any accusation of wrongdoing, said Koppe’s dismissal was in line with the tribunals “internal rules”.

Suon Visal, head of the Cambodian bar association, said Koppe had not been “honest with [the] legal profession as required” in his failure to notify it about his lack of registration in the Netherlands.

Visal went on to criticise Endeley, the defence section chief, for not checking the foreign lawyer’s qualifications and allowing Koppe to represent his client despite knowing that he was disbarred.

Endeley did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The United Nations-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia has spent nine years and more than US$300 million prosecuting the leaders of the country’s Khmer Rouge.

Between 1975 and 1979, at least 1.7 million Cambodians – a fifth of the country’s population – lost their lives under the regime.

As well as Chea, the tribunal has convicted 87-year-old Khieu Samphan for crimes against humanity and Kaing Guek Eav, former head of the Khmer Rouge prison system.