Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Alibi, arrests confuse murder probe

Alibi, arrests confuse murder probe

Alibi, arrests confuse murder probe

Friends and family of the two men accused of killing Chea Vichea have been taken

from their homes for questioning by police in the last week, amid reports of an alibi

for one of the suspects.

Suong Sokha, 30, was arrested by police in civilian clothes from his father's house

in the Tuol Kork district of Phnom Penh on February 11.

Sokha's father, Colonel Suong Sopul, said the warrant for his arrest was signed by

Phnom Penh municipal judge Kong Seth on February 9 and linked him to a robbery dating

back to September 17, 2002. Shortly before police took him away Sokha told the Post

he thought Sok Samoeun was not the real killer of Chea Vichea.

Sokha said that if his friend Samoeun had been involved in the shooting he would

not have returned to his residence and lived as normal until police arrested him

six days later.

At a party to celebrate Chinese New Year the night before Vichea's murder, Samoeun,

who was known for exaggerating his wealth, had "no money" said Sokha, despite

police saying the accused killers were paid $1500 before the assassination.

Sokha, a military policeman, said he left Samoeun at about 8am on January 22 to go

to work at the MP headquarters in Toul Kork and returned at 9pm. He could not account

for Samoeun's whereabouts at the time Vichea was shot, about 9:15am, but his sister

told him Samoeun had returned to the house at 11am with food from a party. The Post

could not independently confirm that Samoeun had attended a party on the morning

of January 22.

Samoeun had lived with Sokha since arriving in Phnom Penh six weeks ago. They were

arrested on January 28 with two other men and questioned about the Vichea murder.

Speaking soon after Sokha's arrest on Feburuary 11, Suong Sopul said his son had

been also arrested in 2003 for "doing some illegal business".

Police say Samoeun, 36, and Bourn Samnang, 23, are responsible for the January 22

assassination of Vichea, a prominent union leader who was shot three times from close

range while reading a newspaper near Wat Lanka in Phnom Penh. At a press conference

on January 29 both suspects pleaded their innocence and alleged police beat them

to force their cooperation, but Samnang confessed to the crimes the following day.

Earlier this week, relatives and friends of Bourn Samnang provided an alibi for him.

Residents of Village 6, south of the Neak Leoung ferry crossing in Prey Veng, 60km

from Phnom Penh, told the Cambodia Daily that Samnang was celebrating Chinese New

Year with them from January 20 to 27.

Amnesty International said that Samnang's 20-year old girlfriend, Vieng Thi Hong,

was arrested on February 9 and that they were "gravely concerned for her safety."

Media reports and other human rights observers confirmed that Hong had been taken

from her Prey Veng home on Monday afternoon and went with police to Phnom Penh but

said she had been released at around midnight and is now with her mother at an undisclosed

location.

Heng Pov, deputy police chief, denied that Samnang's girlfriend had been arrested

and said yesterday "it is a rumor." Pov dismissed Samnang's alibi as "crazy",

saying the videotaped confession proved he was guilty.

"If [Bourn Samnang] is a good man, why did his mother renounce him on January

19, 2004? Then he was broke, so on the 22nd he shot Chea Vichea," Pov told the

Daily.

Samnang's mother, Nun Kimsrey, said she filed documents and photographs with the

Boeung Kak 2 commune office to disown her son in an effort to avoid liability for

money he allegedly cheated from a pharmaceutical company he had worked for.

Samnang and Samoeun remain in custody in Prey Sar prison. No trial date has been

set but investigating judge Hing Thirith said the inquiry was progressing quickly

because the suspects had confessed.

Long Dara, lawyer for Bourn Samnang, said on February 11 that "my client admitted

to killing Chea Vichea [and] as a lawyer I have to defer to my client's will."

But Sum Samneang, secretary general of the trade union Vichea presided over, said

on February 11 that police had not yet found the real killers.

"What the government did was theatre...just for looking good," said Samneang.

"We have to file [a complaint] even if the court cannot find justice for us,

we have to try to find the killers and their backers," said Samneang referring

to a letter of complaint sent to the Phnom Penh municipal court by the Free Trade

Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia on February 10.

Vichea's widow, Chea Kimny, also sent a thumb-printed letter to the court on February

10 asking that

they find and sentence the killers. She requested $50,000 compensation from those

found guilty.

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