Law and order in Cambodia this year has been a strange mix of the brutal and the bizarre.
From horrific murders to the police’s decision to deliver crystal meth to phony hostage-takers during a bank heist, crime has continually made headlines in a year when the election has otherwise saturated coverage.
In an offbeat start to 2013, what was first thought to be a hostage situation at an Acleda Bank branch in Kampong Cham turned out to be an elaborately planned bank heist by some employees.
This discovery was made only after a 30-hour stand-off with police, during which the “hostage-takers”, purporting to be drug addicts, insisted that officers deliver them crystal meth – a demand that was agreed to.
“Really, there were no hostages,” said provincial police chief Chhay Kimson only hours later. “All of them are perpetrators.”
In February, the first of several high-profile attacks on foreigners took place in Kampot.
French tourist Ophélie Begnis, 25, was murdered after last being seen leaving her guesthouse on a bike. Her naked body was later found floating in an estuary.
In April, police arrested former guesthouse owner Oliver Van Den Bogaert, 40, a Belgian national, over the murder.
After his client had spent four months in pre-trial detention, Van Den Bogaert’s lawyer said authorities had failed to mount a case against him, while he claimed to have 10 witnesses ready to support his innocence. He was denied bailed and is yet to go to trial.
Japanese national Kosei Kitakura, 44, was shot in front of an apartment complex on Street 288 in Phnom Penh in the early hours of March 3. He died on the way to hospital. Sok Na, 28, was one of four people arrested and police allege that he later confessed to killing a Chinese man in a separate robbery.
In May, a Christian community in Kampong Speu province’s Chbar Mon district was thrust into mourning after Singaporean pastor and teacher Wendy Ng, 55, was stabbed to death during a suspected burglary.
Four suspects were later charged with murder after a court heard they were construction workers building a new home for Ng.
Katherine Ann Grgich, a 55-year-old American, disappeared on September 28. Two days later, her body was found three kilometres away from the guesthouse she was staying in on Koh Rong, off Sihanoukville. Nearly a month later, police declared it a murder, though no arrests have been made.
Other murders have included those of children, another school teacher and a chief abbot.
In a year in which a UN report found that on average, one in five men in Cambodia had raped, the Kingdom experienced a number of horrific gang rapes.
In March, 10 men were accused of raping a 13-year-old girl multiple times in separate incidents over the course of a few days in Kampong Chhnang province. One of the 10 men – all said to be between 18 and 21 – was arrested soon after.
In a similar story, 10 men allegedly raped an 18-year-old woman in Banteay Meanchey early this month. Three of them were arrested days later.
In yet another case, five men raped a 20-year-old woman in the capital’s Russey Keo district in March. One was later arrested and charged.
Lieutenant General Mok Chito, chief of central justice at the Ministry of Interior’s police department, said yesterday that despite what the headlines suggested, rape and murder cases had decreased.
“Felonies that have decreased include murder, robbery, theft and rape,” he said.
Chito could not provide statistics, but insisted the number of foreigners murdered or attacked this year had also fallen.
In between dishing out heavy sentences for drug trafficking, Cambodian courts also dealt with cases involving a number of colourful personalities.
David Chanaiwa, a disbarred lawyer, was arrested in March for allegedly beating up 10 journalists as they filmed the scene of a car wreck he had just walked away from.
It was reported that the attack was caught on video, and Chanaiwa was later convicted and sentenced to three years in jail, despite the journalists having withdrawn their complaints.
The former lawyer was denied bail, but in December, the Court of Appeal ordered the case reinvestigated.
The year began with stories about Russian tycoon Sergei Polonsky, the eccentric owner of a private island off Sihanoukville, who had been arrested some days earlier over allegations of violence against six boatmen.
Complaints were soon dropped, but charges remained.
Polonsky was released on bail in April, but rearrested again in November over a failed $176 million development in Moscow, and will spend the final day of 2013 in court fighting an extradition charge.
Often making the news were reports of police storming into houses and arresting rooms full of foreigners involved in extortion and online gambling.
Major Y Sok Khy, chief of the Ministry of Interior’s anti-terrorism police department, said yesterday that police had been successful in cracking down on such crime and many arrested had been sent back to their home countries, China or Taiwan.
“Cambodian police will continue to strengthen our police officers’ abilities to research and investigate where these people are setting up,” he said, adding that 2014 would bring closer cooperation with “relevant local authorities, especially the courts”.
While 2013 was undoubtedly full of crime reports without a happy ending, the story of 18-year-old Kov Sreyleak being reunited with her stolen baby was a heartwarming exception.
Hours after being born in October, Sreyleak’s baby was abducted from hospital in the capital’s Meanchey district.
After the story made the news, a man reported that he had seen his neighbour suddenly clutching a newborn baby, despite her not having been pregnant.
The woman – accused of disguising herself as a nurse – was soon arrested and the baby returned to her mother’s arms.
“I am very delighted. Nothing could compare to the return of my baby,” Sreyleak said.