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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Alcohol cited as cause in N Koreans’ deaths

Alcohol cited as cause in N Koreans’ deaths

Two North Korean doctors died on Saturday from apparent alcohol poisoning in circumstances police initially deemed suspicious.

Dr An Hyong Chan, 56, and Dr Rimun Chol, 50, died in the clinic that doubles as their home on Street 594 in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district, after an evening of eating and drinking with their wives and 10 other North Koreans, according to Boeung Kak II commune police chief Khan Khun Tith.

“According to the autopsy report, the victims both died of a heart attack,” he said, adding that when police arrived at the victims’ home they found 14 North Korean nationals there, along with the dead doctors’ wives.

Tith said the victims’ wives told police their husbands had consumed numerous cocktails by the time they returned home, and developed a very high temperature, leading their spouses, also doctors, to inject them with a substance intended to counteract the effects of alcohol.

Tith quoted one of the wives as saying: “After arriving home, we [the wives] checked their conditions, and their temperature had reached 40 degrees Celsius, and their heartbeat was abnormal and their pulses abnormally weak.

So we tried to save them by injecting medicine and serum to weaken the intoxication, but an hour later, they had a heart attack and died.”

The deaths were not reported to police until Saturday afternoon, hours after they occurred, when the North Korean Embassy contacted authorities.

Speaking yesterday morning, Khun Tith initially said the examination of one of the victims raised questions about the wives’ account of how their husbands died.

“We think the deaths might be suspicious because one of the victims had scratch marks on his chest and stomach,” he said.

However, hours later, Tith said authorities were happy with the explanation of the dead man’s wife that the scratches on his body were self-inflicted after he had started clawing at his stomach and chest due to pain in his chest.

Tith added that the North Korean Embassy had also accepted the wives’ account, and the case was therefore closed.

When reporters visited the clinic yesterday afternoon, they were told to leave by four North Korean men.

“We don’t want any interviews with journalists,” one of them said.

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