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Kem Ley murder trial date set for only suspect in analyst’s killing

The body of political activist Kem Ley is carried out of the Caltex station where he was killed in July.
The body of political activist Kem Ley is carried out of the Caltex station where he was killed in July. Pha Lina

Kem Ley murder trial date set for only suspect in analyst’s killing

Authorities have set March 1 for the trial of former soldier and ex-monk Oeut Ang, the alleged killer of prominent political analyst Kem Ley.

The date was included in a schedule for the case posted at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday.

“The hearing is on March 1 at 8am in room one,” it states, listing the trial judge as Leang Samnat and prosecutor as Ly Sophana.

Oeut Ang, also known as “Choub Samlab”, the name he initially gave to police, which translates in English to “meet to kill”, is charged with premeditated murder and illegal gun possession over the July 10 shooting.

Though the schedule says a defence lawyer has been requested, and Sophana said the judge had asked the Kingdom’s Bar Association to provide an attorney, the organisation’s president, Suon Visal, yesterday said it had not been contacted.

“We have not received any request from the court yet to assign a lawyer,” Visal said. “I checked the court … so, now, I think he has no lawyer.”

Under Cambodia’s Criminal Procedure Law it is compulsory for defendants in a felony case to be represented by a lawyer. Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun, formerly of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said the law was vague about what point in the process this should happen, though one was usually assigned by the trial judge, he said.

Ley was gunned down with an expensive Glock handgun just before 9am as he drank coffee at his usual spot at a Caltex gas station in Phnom Penh. Ang was arrested about 1.5 kilometres from the scene. In a hastily released confession video, Ang told police he had killed the government critic over a $3,000 debt.

That motive, however, was met with deep scepticism. Families of both the suspect and victim said the men had never met, while those who knew Ang pointed out he had little money to loan anyone.

Reached yesterday, Ang’s wife, Hoeum Hout, who has previously said she believed her husband was hired, said she had only heard once from Ang since the shooting, two weeks after his arrest.

“He called me to ask for money, but I did not have money for him,” she said, declining to give specifics about her dealings with investigators.

“Many people have come to question me including journalists, police and military police. They asked the same things.”

Widespread suspicions that the murder was politically motivated have only been fuelled by the opaque investigation, which officially wrapped up in December.

Despite a pledge by a police official to find the “mastermind”, no further suspects have been named, while authorities have refused to release CCTV footage of the shooting. A video released online, meanwhile, showed the suspect appearing familiar with police as he fled the scene.

Chief of the Phnom Penh municipal police’s serious crimes bureau Eng Sorphea, among the investigators on the case, yesterday denied officers had insufficiently probed the murder.

“A case has to have all the elements to be accepted by the court,” he said.

Samnat, the presiding judge, has previously overseen and investigated several cases deemed politically motivated by critics, including the recent conviction of opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

Ley’s widow, Bou Rachana, who last year fled to Thailand fearing for her safety and has since requested asylum in Australia, is named as the complainant on the court schedule, though she has denied lodging a complaint.

“They just put the name and filed the charges by themselves,” said Rachana’s sister, Bou Molita, by phone from Thailand.Rachana’s brother Bou Channy, meanwhile, said he would skip the hearing.

“I will not go to the court, because I don’t accept [the suspect] is the real killer,” said Channy, who also rejected claims by authorities that Ley’s relatives had been shown the CCTV footage of his murder.

“What they said is a lie. It’s hard to understand our police,” he said. Sam Inn, spokesman for the Grassroots Democracy Party, which Ley helped found, said the public was “disappointed” and had little hope of finding out the truth.

“The more they try to hide it, the more public suspicion increases,” he added.

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