Nearly six months after political commentator Kem Ley was shot point blank at a petrol station in the capital, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on December 23 quietly closed its investigation into the case, a probe that has so far failed to provide a clear narrative of that July morning.
The popular commentator was shot in the head and under the armpit on July 10 as he sipped his morning coffee at a Caltex petrol station on Phnom Penh’s Monivong Boulevard. Forty-four-year-old Oeut Ang, who gave his name as Choub Samlab or “Meet Kill”, was apprehended shortly thereafter and confessed, saying he had killed Ley over a $3,000 debt.
In a letter released yesterday, investigating judge Seng Leang informed Ley’s wife Bou Rachana that the court had collected the relevant evidence and decided to end the investigative process. The letter refers to Rachana as a civil party, even though the family claims to have never filed a complaint with the court.
Court spokesman Ly Sophanna yesterday said via phone message that the case was now being sent to the prosecutor to provide a final conclusion, but refused to answer questions related to the still-unreleased CCTV footage of the murder, a potential trial date or whether there were any new leads.
“These questions can affect the secrecy of the investigation process,” he said, refusing to respond to further inquiries.
Since Ang’s arrest, government and police officials have provided little to clarify the events of that Sunday morning in July. Bou Channy, Rachana’s brother, said yesterday that the closing of the investigation was “unacceptable” and questioned the reluctance to release the footage obtained from Caltex despite repeated calls from Ley’s family to do so.
“I think the investigation would be easier if the CCTV camera at Caltex was released for further examination, but no one cares about this,” he said.
He added that his confidence in the investigation was so low that he even questioned if Ang was the perpetrator at this point.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak and his National Police counterpart Kirth Chantharith could not be reached yesterday.
However, speaking to Radio Free Asia last week, Sopheak himself poked holes in Ang’s confession.
“We have concluded that the offender has intentionally given answers just to mislead the police and is not telling the truth,” he said. “We do not believe that the offender was named Choub Samlab and we do not believe he gave Kem Ley a loan of $3,000.”
Indeed, just days after the shooting, the National Police’s Chantharith had suggested a “mastermind” had yet to be discovered.
Yin San, police chief in Chamkarmon district, where the shooting took place, said yesterday that his office was not involved in the case and directed queries to the court.
With little clarity and no new leads, Am Sam Ath, of rights group Licadho, said this case was headed in the direction of other politically motivated cases – nowhere.
“Family members and the public may be concerned about the Kem Ley case, but it will be the same as [murdered labour leader] Chea Vichea and [slain environmental activist] Chut Wutty’s case. Justice remains in the sky,” he said.
Sam Inn, a close friend of Ley’s and spokesman for the Grassroots Democratic Party he co-founded, said the investigation had been “very disappointing”, especially in light of the reluctance of both the police and court to be transparent and quick in their work.
“So far, we do not know what is going on,” Inn said. “So I cannot say if we will have the answers to this case.”