Two employees at Phnom Penh’s five-star Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra Hotel were released from custody yesterday after being accused of stealing diamond jewellery and cash worth more than $140,000 from a powerful military general while he relaxed at the hotel’s exclusive sports club.
But questions are being raised – by the hotel’s management, in particular – about how the jewels of Seak Socheath, a three-star general, could have been stolen, seeing as closed-circuit TV surveillance footage allegedly shows his bodyguard was in possession of his locker key and was present in the locker room throughout the alleged incident.
Charles-Henri Chevet, the Sofitel’s general manager, said in an interview yesterday that he believed his staff members – Louk Sareth, a receptionist, and Samrith Reaksmey, a fitness trainer – were clearly innocent, citing CCTV footage and their stellar professional backgrounds.
“There are two staff under questioning. One of them, the lady, during all the time of this event, she has never been in the men’s locker room. Physically, she has not entered for any second,” he said. “Second, for the gentleman, of course it is his duty to be around. And [for] one moment he is staying for a couple of minutes in the locker [room]. Just to check the cleanliness in the locker room, especially during peak time.
“But I want to mention [that] also clearly in the CCTV [footage], the bodyguard of our member is also inside the locker room. There is no CCTV inside the locker room, but what I want to say is … our employee [might be inside], but at the same time, there is the bodyguard of our member … [who] is taking care of this member and his belongings.”
He added that CCTV footage shows “very clearly” the bodyguard arriving and taking possession of Socheath’s locker key.
“So it makes clear that the key is in the possession of the bodyguard and not at all in the possession of our staff.”
Chevet added that he was pleased the court had released his staff and that he would ensure they were available for further questioning if needed.
The pair were arrested on Sunday and charged with theft on Wednesday. Socheath had been using the facilities at the hotel on Friday afternoon when he allegedly returned to his locker and found the valuable items missing. Socheath, an RCAF deputy chief of staff and head of border affairs at the Ministry of Defence, could not be reached.
But Leuk Vannak, deputy penal police chief at the Ministry of Interior, said yesterday that police had arrested the pair based on questioning.
“The woman named Nuth [Louk] Sareth has also kept one key for herself and she has given the other key to the general,” he said. This, in addition to the fact that Reaksmey frequently entered the locker room as part of his job and interacted with Sareth, convinced police of their guilt.
The Sofitel said its receptionists have access to a spare locker key in the event that a guest misplaces it, but that this key is kept with hotel security.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court investigating judge Mong Monysorophea said he had decided to release the pair yesterday, however, he declined to provide a specific reason why.
He said he had viewed some CCTV footage from the hotel.
“The camera-checking is not finished yet … it’s taking time.”
Chevet, the hotel’s general manager, said that his other staff did not appear concerned that they could be similarly accused by one of the hotel’s powerful and well-connected clientele.