Leaked letters from a trio of government bodies reveal a behind-the-scenes push for a royal pardon for Seng Chenda, wife of prominent tycoon Khaou Chuly, who was convicted in 2011 of the attempted murder of Transport Minister Sun Chanthol’s wife and daughter in an at-times baffling trial.
Documents seen by the Post include a letter addressed to Prime Minister Hun Sen and signed by National Assembly President Heng Samrin and opposition lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang proposing a pardon for Chenda and citing a lack of evidence in her case.
Yesterday, Chhay Eang, who is chair of the parliamentary commission on human rights and complaints, confirmed the commission had received two requests in May, one each from Chuly and Chenda, after which legal experts were asked to look into the case.
The results of the investigation, according to the July 2015 letter, found that the charges had no basis, and that there was no evidence or eye-witnesses to the crime. “We have seen that this case had irregularities. In March, the commission summonsed the minister of justice to examine the case and give Chenda justice,” Chhay Eang said yesterday, adding that he had received no communication on the request since then.
In 2011, Chenda and three accomplices were convicted of plotting to kill Sun Sotha, Chuly’s daughter from an earlier marriage, and her 9-year-old daughter.
Sotha is the wife of Sun Chanthol, who at the time was the vice chairman for the Council for the Development of Cambodia. Chanthol could not be reached yesterday.
In a conspiracy that bordered on the Shakespearean, Chenda was allegedly upset at Sotha’s refusal to accept her as a mother and allegedly instructed her maid, Chan Sokha, to give Sotha’s maid, Neang Sinath, sleeping pills to neutralise guard dogs at Sotha’s condo.
Sinath was then expected to open a window to allow Chenda’s security guard, Sok Lak, to enter the home and rape and murder Sotha. However, the window was never unlocked, purportedly foiling the plot.
At trial, however, Sokha and Sinath – on whose accounts much of the case was based – reversed their testimony, saying they had only made statements incriminating Chenda after being intimidated by Minister Chanthol while in police custody.
Nonetheless, Chenda and Lak were ultimately sentenced to 20 years each, while Sokha and Sinath were given 18-year prison terms. At the Appeal Court, however, Sokha again reversed her testimony, saying she overheard Khaou Chuly and his son Khaou Phallabot discussing the plot, leading to the duo – as well as Lay Huong, Phallabot’s now ex-wife, and Huy Sok Leap, Chenda’s stepdaughter – to be charged in absentia as well.
By the time Chenda’s case reached the Supreme Court, both Sokha and Sinath had reversed their earlier reversals, and were again offering details of the supposed plot.
Earlier this year, Huong and Phallabot were sentenced to 20 years for masterminding the attempted murder. Huong was extradited from Thailand in 2015, while Phallabot was sentenced in absentia.
After her appeals were exhausted in 2012, Chenda vowed to explore other measures, filing the complaint to the National Assembly last year. However, unlike many of the myriad complaints addressed to the Assembly’s commission on human rights, Chenda’s request prompted a flurry of activity across multiple government bodies.
Following the National Assembly request, the Council of Ministers and Interior Ministry both sent letters to Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana in July and December, respectively, seeking clarification on the request and a “solution to the case”.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday he was unaware of the letter, which was signed by then-secretary of state Keo Remy, who did not respond to request for comment yesterday.
Siphan, however, said that such a letter would be routine when dealing with clemency demands made to Hun Sen, given that the Council drafts the final requests forwarded to the King for approval.
Prum Sokha, secretary of state at the Interior Ministry, confirmed yesterday that he had sent his letter to the justice minister at the behest of Interior Minister Sar Kheng, but said he was unaware of the details of the case.
“It is just the responsibility of the Ministry of Interior to ask the Justice Ministry to examine this legally,” Sokha said. “Any request made even from regular people, he [Sar Kheng] decides whether to send a letter to the Justice Ministry for examination.”
Justice Ministry spokesmen Chin Malin and Kim Santepheap could not be reached yesterday.
Chenda’s lawyer Lim Vanna said he wasn’t involved in drafting the clemency requests, but held that his client should have been acquitted given the lack of evidence in the case.
Political commentator Ou Virak, who at the time was president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said the case seemed political in nature. Virak also questioned whether regular citizens would have enjoyed the same expediency as Chenda’s request.
“The powerful and political cases always get to the front of the line. That is just the reality on the ground.”