Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ex-Takeo governor arrested over suspicious death of assembly staffer

Ex-Takeo governor arrested over suspicious death of assembly staffer

Suspects arrested over the suspicious death of a National Assembly staffer are brought to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Saturday.
Suspects arrested over the suspicious death of a National Assembly staffer are brought to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Saturday. Hong Menea

Ex-Takeo governor arrested over suspicious death of assembly staffer

Lay Vannak, the recently ousted governor of Takeo, was arrested on Sunday afternoon in connection with the suspicious death of a 36-year-old National Assembly staffer, according to Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak.

Vannak’s arrest is the culmination of days of speculation about the death of Chev Sovathana, who was found hanged in her room in Takeo in January. Police initially ruled her death a suicide, but reopened the case as a murder investigation after family members raised suspicions.

Sopheak on Saturday described the case as “a knot” that police investigators are working to undo. “We are reinvestigating this case because of the dissatisfaction of the family and our authorities, who were also dissatisfied,” he said.

Vannak’s brother, provincial Deputy Police Chief Lay Narith, was taken into custody on Saturday in connection with the death, along with four other suspects – Chan Ry, Sovathana’s maid; Choem Vuth, Ry’s husband; Men Sakmay, Vannak’s driver; and Tak Ratana, Narith’s driver.

National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith confirmed that the court questioned the five on Sunday.

In a statement posted to Facebook the day before his arrest, Vannak admitted to a yearlong affair with Sovathana but denied involvement in her death. Instead, he insisted that Sovathana, who was a CPP Youth working group member, had killed herself after he tried to break off the relationship when his wife found out.

“I would like to strongly deny all the accusations that my brother and I killed sister Chev Sovathana,” Vannak wrote. “My brother and I made no evil decision to kill her . . . I believe the judicial system and our courts will provide justice for me and my older brother.”

The former governor, who is a member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s Central Committee, added that he was “not running away from the CPP party or my country”.

The scene of ex-Takeo Governor Lay Vannak’s arrest on Sunday. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court summonsed Vannak over the suspicious death of a 36-year-old National Assembly staffer he had an affair with. Fresh News
The scene of ex-Takeo Governor Lay Vannak’s arrest on Sunday. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court summonsed Vannak over the suspicious death of a 36-year-old National Assembly staffer he had an affair with. Fresh News

In a follow-up statement posted on Sunday, Vannak claimed that Sovathana had attempted suicide multiple times before.

He was arrested hours later, shortly after he attended the appointment ceremony of the new governor of Takeo.

Officials have refused to say whether Vannak’s sudden transfer last week from the governorship of Takeo to an unspecified position at the Ministry of Interior was related to the murder investigation.

In a two-hour speech to teachers on Koh Pich on Sunday, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the recent removal of two provincial governors in less than three months – apparently a reference to Vannak and former Kampot Governor Chan Chesda – was hurting the ruling party, according to a teacher in attendance.

“[Hun Sen] revealed that one person who was assigned to be provincial governor had an affair . . . and did not keep it a secret affair,” said the teacher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it was a closed-door meeting.

“And he sent a message to all working groups not take an example from him.”

Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Ly Sophanna confirmed that Prosecutor Sieng Sok issued a summons for Vannak on Sunday. The summons “allows the judicial police officer to call for police forces to compel such person to appear before” the judge, Sophanna said in a message.

Contact details for Sovathana’s family members could not be obtained by press time.

National Assembly spokesperson Leng Peng Long confirmed that Sovathana had been employed at the assembly and had been an active ruling party youth group member.

“She was a hardworking person,” he said. “We regret her loss.”

Additional reporting by Daphne Chen

MOST VIEWED

  • With herd immunity likely in 2022, is Cambodia ready to reopen for tourism?

    The government aims to inoculate 80 per cent of the target population by June next year, giving it a head start among regional peers to reboot the sector but first, it has to do a few things to up its game A sign on a glass

  • US wants 'full access' to Ream Naval Base

    On June 11, the US embassy's Defense Attaché Colonel Marcus M Ferrara visited Ream Nava Base in coordination with Cambodian officials following the recent approval of Prime minister Hun Sen to allay the concerns on Chinese military presence at the base as raised by US Deputy

  • Jab drive heading to 5 provinces

    The government is set to vaccinate more than 1.2 million people in five provinces after finishing with Phnom Penh and neighbouring Kandal in an ongoing campaign administered by the ministries of Health and National Defence. The five provinces are Preah Sihanouk, Kampong Speu, Takeo, Kampong Cham

  • New immigration bill targets illegal foreigners in Kingdom

    General Department of Immigration (GDI) officials are discussing revisions to the new draft law on immigration to prevent foreigners from entering Cambodia illegally and to supervise those living in the Kingdom more effectively. The revisions draw wide support among civil society organisations. GDI director-general Kirth

  • Kingdom set to be a gold producer

    Cambodia will soon join the roster of gold producing countries after the government announced the commencement of commercial gold mining operations in the Okvau area in southwestern Mondulkiri province's Keo Seima district from June 21. Prime Minister Hun Sen on June 10 announced that after 14 years of

  • School reopening can’t wait

    With the Covid-19 pandemic now well into its second year, safely reopening schools has become an urgent priority. School attendance is critical for children’s education and lifetime prospects. The long-term costs of closures – both for individual children and society – are simply too large to