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French lawyer Morgan Bescou
French lawyer Morgan Bescou (second right) sits with members of Ophélie Begnis’s family during a press conference at the FCC in Phnom Penh on Saturday. Heng Chivoan

‘We need answers’: sister

The family of the murdered 25-year-old French tourist Ophélie Begnis, whose mutilated body was found on a Kampot riverbank in February 2013, came to Cambodia last week to urge the authorities to give the case a second look.

In July this year, the case’s sole suspect, Belgian citizen Olivier van Den Bogaert, 42, left Cambodia for his home country after spending a year in prison.

While Cambodian authorities said Van Den Bogaert was released on bail to travel to Europe for medical reasons, his lawyer Benoit Lavagne said his client “would not have been allowed to go back to Europe if he was guilty”.

Lavagne added that an interrogation ordered by a French investigative judge this October in France concluded there was “no reason to think Olivier is guilty”.

Begnis’s family says the case has gone cold since Van Den Bogaert’s controversial release.

They maintain that numerous leads were not followed up on since all investigative efforts were focused on Van Den Bogaert.

“Since his release, no [further] investigation has taken place, which greatly worries the Begnis family,” said the Begnis’s lawyer Morgan Bescou, speaking to reporters from major Cambodian media outlets at the FCC on Saturday.

Ophélie Begnis’s brother Jonathan, her sister Virginia, and her father, Christian, arrived in Phnom Penh on November 9 and left on Saturday, spending five days in Phnom Penh and two in Kampot and meeting with the French consul and Cambodian authorities.

“It’s very hard for me to understand how [Ophélie] died like that. We need answers,” said Virginia Begnis.

The family cited as possible leads interviewing people in a neighbouring village and conducting analyses of the riverbanks to find where Begnis was killed.

But it remains to be seen whether any renewed emphasis will be applied to the case.

The Begnis family was left unsatisfied by the vague responses of Cambodian and French officials, Bescou said.

“They said, 'Yes, yes, yes, we’re very mindful [of Ophélie]', but when we started talking about the details, they blocked.”

A French investigating judge is to arrive in Cambodia in January to discuss the matter with his Cambodian counterpart. But almost two years after Begnis’s murder, it’s too little, too late, said Bescou, shaking his head.

“Here [in Cambodia], there’s only one thing that’s free: time.”

According to Hong Sokun Vathana, investigating judge in Kampot provincial court, the case remains “ongoing”.

“I think the family came just to remind people about her death because I did not see them doing any research in the province,” he said.

French and Cambodian authorities have conducted renewed investigations into the murder of French citizens in the Kingdom in the past.

It took more than a year for a joint forensics team to find that the death of Laurent Vallier, 42, was not a suicide.

The bodies of Vallier and his four children were found in a vehicle submerged in a pond behind Vallier’s Kampong Speu home in January 2012.

A second investigation revealed that Vallier’s head, which was in a suitcase in the back of the vehicle, could not have floated away from his body, which was found in the front.

Vallier’s case, like Begnis’s, remains open.

French Embassy spokesman Nicolas Baudouin declined to comment on the specifics of Begnis’s case.

“The investigations are ongoing on both [the Cambodian and French] sides,” he said.

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