Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hitman on the run - police

Hitman on the run - police

Hitman on the run - police

FOREIGN gangsters ordered the execution-style slaying of a French restaurateur on

Apr 2, according to police investigators, and the suspected Cambodian trigger-man

is now on the run.

Interpol chief Gen Skadavy M Ly Roun said that whoever put out the contract on Eric

Ambroise was "not Cambodian".

Meanwhile, one suspected gunman, a local hotel security guard, has disappeared.

"I can confirm to you that the one who is responsible for [Ambroise's murder]

is a foreigner," he said , without being more specific. "We tried to arrest

a suspect, but he no longer works at the hotel, so we hope to arrest him very soon."

According to investigators, early leads into the case have the earmarks of a small-time

drug deal that went fatally wrong when big-time money-lenders finally came to collect.

The 40-year old co-owner of the Cactus cafe in central Phnom Penh, was reportedly

eliminated for failing to pay debts owed in a failed drug deal.

"Based on testimonies taken from witnesses, Eric Ambroise had dealings with

drug-traffickers and dealers, and he owed them debts," said a police source

who requested anonymity.

"The main lead that justifies the theory of his killing is that a criminal network

had probably supplied Ambroise and his associates with either merchandise or money,

and could no longer wait for payment which was delayed by several months."

Only days before the Frenchman was gunned down outside the Deauville restaurant next

to Wat Phnom, he was reportedly beaten up, "probably by his suppliers who were

sending him a warning."

Police are also concentrating on the possibility that Ambroise's murder arose from

personal tensions or dubious dealings with other members of Phnom Penh's francophone

community.

According to sources, post-Untac Cambodia, with its loose laws and immigration controls,

has attracted Europeans who have brought with them the baggage of past convictions

or criminal records. Under the eye of the police, many of them have reportedly opened

up bars, cafes, and hotels which serve as fronts for shady activities such as drug

dealing and prostitution.

Ambroise apparently was one such ex-convict who frequented Phnom Penh's European

underworld.

On one occasion, he reportedly pulled a gun on one the co-owners of the Cactus with

whom he is said to have had managerial differences.

"In France, he was convicted three times for illegal weapons possession, extortion,

and the selling and use of drugs," said Interpol's Skadavy.

According to accounts given by police and acquaintances, several months back Ambroise

became involved with two Belgian cooks who were rumored to be narcotics users and

pushers.

Ambroise - allegedly no stranger to risks - was venturing into the unfamiliar territory

of hard-drugs, acquaintances said.

"Eric had entered into a new kind of business for him where the stakes were

high," said one acquaintance. "It wasn't cannabis and it wasn't ecstasy

- it was hard drugs such as heroin."

Ambroise had reportedly given $6,000 to one of the cooks to procure a consignment

of "powder" from Sihanoukville. A portion of this money - $2,000 - was

borrowed by Ambroise from unknown lenders. The Belgian reportedly returned to Phnom

Penh, with neither the drugs nor the money.

After he pleaded to Ambroise that the cash had been stolen, it is said that the Frenchman

became outraged and menaced the Belgian for the money. Eventually, both cooks reportedly

fled Phnom Penh when word circulated that the creditors wanted their money back.

Ambroise, so the theory goes, had landed himself in a quandary. He had nothing to

show his creditors for the money they lent him. But, unlike his Belgian associates,

he chose to stay put.

According to police and witnesses, Ambroise was shot at least three times as he stepped

out of the Deauville restaurant near Wat Phnom at around 10:30 pm on Apr 2.

Having sustained wounds to the head and shoulder, he was pronounced dead on arrival

when he was wheeled into Calmette hospital minutes later.

Police are convinced his murder was the work of professionals.

The two killers reportedly trailed Ambroise, his girlfriend, an associate, and an

unidentified customer from the Cactus to the French-run bistro.

While the girlfriend stayed in Ambroise's car, the three Frenchmen went in for a

nightcap.

Although the owner of the Deauville denied the claim, sources said that one of the

killers actually followed them in.

Inside, Ambroise apparently recognized his assassin and stepped outside to fetch

a revolver from his car. As Ambroise approached it, he was ambushed.

According to the police source, once the killers fired on him and he was sprawled

on the pavement, they finished him off with two shots fired into his skull from above.

According to witnesses, as soon as the killers sped off on their motorcycle. Ambroise's

21-year old Cambodian girlfriend then made off with his wallet and valuables.

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