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Suspects stick to stories in Oudong theft

Keo Reaksmey is escorted out of a holding cell yesterday at Kandal Provincal Court before being questioned over his involvement in the theft of relics from Oudong Mountain last year.
Keo Reaksmey is escorted out of a holding cell yesterday at Kandal Provincal Court before being questioned over his involvement in the theft of relics from Oudong Mountain last year. Pha Lina

Suspects stick to stories in Oudong theft

After more than a year and a half in pre-trial detention, six men charged over the theft of a golden urn said to hold the Buddha’s remains from Oudong Mountain in December 2013 will have to wait another two weeks for a verdict.

The suspects were yesterday tried at Kandal Provincial Court some 20 months after the urn, gold and other relics were discovered missing from the stupa at the former capital.

During the hearing, Kandal Provincial Court deputy prosecutor Somrithy Vesna accused main suspect Keo Reaksmey, who has admitted stealing the treasures but claimed he acted alone, of hiding information to protect accomplices.

“He has already admitted that he stole the remains, but why do his answers contrast with the evidence?” Vesna said.

“He stole the remains, but he seems to know nothing when he answers [questions], or there is something hidden behind his answers.”

Vesna said evidence suggested the relics were stolen earlier than the night the theft was uncovered, with animal droppings covering their resting place.

However, Reaksmey – who was arrested in February 2014 after neighbours in Takeo reported he had bought a car, motorbike and house in quick succession – maintained he worked alone to steal the relics after seeing them used during the funeral procession of late King Father Norodom Sihanouk.

He recalled succeeding on his third attempt to steal the artefacts by using a nail puller, screw driver, pliers, acid and gloves.

“I am illiterate, and I copied this method from a Chinese movie,” he told the court.

The remaining five suspects, however, adamantly denied accusations by Vesna that they were involved in the heist.

The five – including four security guards and a local villager – were briefly acquitted by the court last November only to have their charges re-instated in December after an appeal by the prosecutor.

Arrested in the days following the theft, their detention had stretched beyond the 18-month limit allowed under Cambodian law.

Pha Sokhem, 60, former head of security forces at the stupa, told the court he was not at the site on the night of the robbery but arrived at 4:30am, 90 minutes after his subordinates reported the theft.

He appealed for the court to release him because he was unwell.

Seang Sarin, 58, a guard at the royal mountain since 2006, said he did not know Reaksmey until meeting him in prison.

He denied feigning sleep and allowing Reaksmey to break into the stupa for a cut of the profits.

“I swear, if I knew and pretended [to sleep], let lightning strike me any time,” he said.

Chheng Phak, attorney for the guards, called for their release in line with their original acquittal.

Reaksmey’s lawyer, Van Tho Riyavann, said his client should have his sentence reduced, noting his confession, his mental condition and that he needed to take care of his elderly grandmother.

A verdict is due on August 27.

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