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Ex-Takeo governor charged with murder in death of mistress

Former Takeo Governor Lay Vannak leaves the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in a police vehicle on Tuesday. Vannak and his brother were charged with murder in the death of a National Assembly staffer with whom Vannak was romantically involved.
Former Takeo Governor Lay Vannak leaves the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in a police vehicle on Tuesday. Vannak and his brother were charged with murder in the death of a National Assembly staffer with whom Vannak was romantically involved. Pha Lina

Ex-Takeo governor charged with murder in death of mistress

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday charged former Takeo Governor Lay Vannak and his brother, provincial Deputy Police Chief Lay Narith, with murder in the death of a National Assembly staffer with whom Vannak was having an affair.

Court spokesman Ly Sophanna confirmed that two others – Choem Vuth, the husband of the victim’s maid, and Men Sakmay, Vannak’s driver – were charged with “concealment of evidence”, which carries a sentence of between one and three years.

Murder is punishable by 10 to 15 years in prison, and can carry a life sentence if found to be premeditated.

It was unclear whether the two other suspects arrested on Saturday – Vuth’s wife, Chan Ry, and Narith’s driver, Tak Ratana – will be charged or released.

Chev Sovathana, aged 36, was found hanged in her Takeo home in January in what police originally ruled a suicide.

However, after the family raised suspicions to the authorities, Prime Minister Hun Sen and Interior Minister Sar Kheng ordered the National Police to reinvestigate, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak.

Sopheak said authorities agreed with Sovathana’s relatives that her death was suspicious, citing the nature of injuries on her body and the lack of blood pooling in her fingertips.

“The investigation was finished too quickly, and he is a governor, so we felt suspicious,” Sopheak said. “They took the body away very quickly.”

Sopheak said that Sakmay, Vannak’s driver, told police that Vannak had ordered him to hang Sovathana’s body to make it look like a suicide. Vannak and his brother continued to deny any involvement in her death during questioning, he said.

Security guards outside the gated community where Sovathana’s parents live turned away reporters Monday.

Sovathana, who emceed events for the National Assembly, was an active CPP Youth member and mother of three. Her father is a retired government official, Sopheak said.

Vannak’s wife, Sou Socheata, hung up on a reporter yesterday. Socheata, a deputy prosecutor at Kandal provincial court, is the daughter of the former Takeo Governor Sou Phirin, who is now a secretary of state at the Council of Ministers.

The couple has three young children.

Shortly before his arrest Sunday afternoon, Vannak admitted to a yearlong affair with Sovathana but insisted she had killed herself, posting photos of her in what he said was a Calmette Hospital room after a suicide attempt in 2016.

However, a Calmette staffer said “no such person” had received treatment there and that a doctor pictured in the photo with Sovathana was not a staff member at the hospital.

Sophanna said all four defendants were sent to prison for pre-trial detention.

Additional reporting by Daphne Chen

This version corrects the byline.

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