Authorities have arrested a Belgian national in Kampot province in connection with the grisly and mysterious murder of 25-year-old Ophélie Begnis, a Frenchwoman whose bludgeoned body was found washed up on the banks of the estuary the day she was to have ended her visit to the popular destination earlier this year.
The arrest, which follows months of media coverage, has stunned the local community. The Belgian’s family, who expressed hesitance to speak publicly while the case proceeds, have obtained legal counsel in Belgium and Cambodia.
Kampot provincial police, national police and an official with the Belgian consulate in Phnom Penh yesterday confirmed that 41-year-old Oliver Van Den Bogaert, who founded and until recently owned the popular guesthouse Olly’s Place in Kampot, was taken from his house on Tuesday and questioned for two days.
National Police spokesman Kirth Chantarith said Van Den Bogaert is expected to go before a court today to face possible murder charges in a case that has confounded investigators and haunted visitor-friendly Kampot.
Provincial deputy police chief In Chiva said that although Van Den Bogaert denied the allegations, “we decided to temporarily detain him because there is enough evidence, and we cannot let him go back”.
Without going into detail, Chiva said the police had spoken with three witnesses – two male boat operators and a woman – and had discovered the victim’s bicycle. On February 9, Begnis left her friends and pedaled out of the guesthouse to one of many retreats dotting the town’s waterway, better known to locals as the Kampot river. She never came back. The next day, authorities found her naked body, with severe injuries to the head and arms, in the water several kilometres from the resort.
Though the official post-mortem from the Ministry of Interior and French embassy has not yet been released, an official speaking on condition of anonymity told the Post previously that the preliminary examination suggested Begnis had been raped before she was murdered.
Police in Kampot also said French officials had participated in the investigation, but the French embassy declined to comment.
A spokesman would say only that the embassy had been informed that police were questioning someone.
For months, leads have turned cold in the case.
Police trawled the river for clues and came up empty-handed, brought in witnesses for questioning and offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the identity of the killer. Now, it appears, they have their first break.
Thierry Dalimier, the honorary Belgian consul in Cambodia, told the Post yesterday Van Den Bogaert had been questioned a month ago by investigators, after which he had been released and given his passport back.
“I thought that everything was okay, but I think that now there are some other elem-ents,” Dalimier said.
“We have no written explan-ation from the police about why he was arrested.
“As the consulate, we are trying to get in touch with the police. We are also informing family.”
Dalimier said that when Van Den Bogaert was questioned before, he was available to talk on his cell phone. The consulate has been unable to reach him this time around.
Speaking from Belgium last night, J B Van Melckebeke, a legal representative of Van Den Bogaert’s family, questioned the basis of the allegations.
“There’s something not log-ical,” Van Melckebeke said.
“Why are people witnessing or seeing things months after what happened? And nobody after the initial investigation mentioned this before?
“Oliver says that he didn’t do it.”