On the first day of his murder trial on Wednesday, the former governor of Takeo province Lay Vannak denied killing his mistress and claimed she had committed suicide.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court heard Vannak’s testimony regarding the death of his mistress, Chev Sovathana, in Takeo town last January.
Vannak and his older brother Lay Narith, a former deputy Takeo police chief, were charged with her murder.
Two others, Vannak’s driver Men Sakmay and Choem Vuth, Sovathana’s housekeeper, were charged with concealing evidence. They were placed in pre-trial detention in April.
The four were charged in relation to the death of Sovathana, who worked at the National Assembly and was head of the Overseas Youth Group.
Sovathana was found hanged in her rented home in Takeo town on January 26 last year. It was initially believed to have been suicide, but the Criminal Police Department at the Ministry of Interior later said it was treating the case as murder.
Vannak was removed from his position as Takeo governor and later dismissed from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Vannak was given around two hours to describe his relationship with the deceased.
He said he had known her for a year and a half before the incident.
He said that since the start of their affair they had often quarrelled because Sovathana was jealous, accusing him of having other mistresses.
Vannak said that on January 25 last year, a female friend from Siem Reap visited him. After she left, Sovathana followed the car taking her home, later accusing Vannak of having another mistress.
The following day, January 26, he met Sovathana at her home for dinner.
“Before I had finished my dinner, she said she wanted a serious talk with me. She asked why I had another mistress. But I told her that that woman was only a friend. She then made two requests – asking me to love her like before, and allowing her to be my second wife,” Vannak told the court.
He said he told her that he accepted the first request, but the second was impossible because his wife was suspicious.
“I told her that I didn’t regard her as a mistress, but as someone special to me. She asked that I live with my wife when I was in Phnom Penh and with her when I was in Takeo. I said I couldn’t promise this. It depended on the situation,” he said.
Vannak said a row broke out when he rejected the second request. He left the house but when he reached his car, Sovathana grabbed his shirt collar.
He pushed her away and they returned to the house but the argument continued.
“If you leave the house, you will not see me tomorrow or ever again.” These, he said, were Sovathana’s last words to him. “I replied: ‘It’s OK if we don’t meet again,’” he said.
Vannak said he then went to a park in Takeo town. Around 15 minutes later, he received a call from Vuth, the housekeeper, saying Sovathana had cut herself on the arm.
Minutes later, he received another call from Vuth telling him that Sovathana had hanged herself.
He said he rang his brother Narith to check the scene. Vannak himself headed for Phnom Penh because he did not want his affair to be made public.
He said he told Vuth to dispose of Sovathana’s two phones because they contained pictures of them together.
“If I had killed her, I beg the sacred beings to destroy me. Let hell take me to its ninth level and never let me be reborn. If I killed her, let me and my family die in a car crash or by falling from a mountain . . . But then please let the sacred beings destroy those who have made false testimonies against me and my brother,” he swore to the court.
He said arguments arising from jealousy happened frequently during their relationship. He said he once slapped Sovathana twice when she went to his house in Takeo and accused him of seeing another woman.
One day, he recalled, Sovathana was angry with him after he left for Morocco with his wife and not her.
Sovathana tried to commit suicide with an overdose but was saved by Calmette Hospital.
Presiding Judge Ham Mengse told the hearing that the court would provide justice.
“I am the presiding judge and have to find justice for all, especially the children of the deceased who know nothing but suffering,” Mengse said.
The judge postponed the hearing to an unspecified date.