Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Year's crime ranged from brutal to bizarre

Year's crime ranged from brutal to bizarre

An unidentified suspect in a failed bank robbery
An unidentified suspect in a failed bank robbery attempt is brought into the Kampong Cham provincial police station in January after he was apprehended. Heng Chivoan

Year's crime ranged from brutal to bizarre

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.

Police officers photograph artefacts that were stolen from a Siem Reap pagoda
Police officers photograph artefacts that were stolen from a Siem Reap pagoda. The artefacts were seized at a shop in Phnom Penh in February. Vireak Mai

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.

David Chanaiwa at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in May where he faced charges for beating reporters at an accident scene
David Chanaiwa at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in May where he faced charges for beating reporters at an accident scene. Hong Menea

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.

Guns, magazines and ammunition are positioned on a desk at the municipal police station during a press conference
Guns, magazines and ammunition are positioned on a desk at the municipal police station during a press conference regarding two foreigners who were shot and robbed in Phnom Penh in September. Vireak Mai

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.


  • School reopening to be postponed until November

    Minister of Education Hang Chuon Naron on Tuesday wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen requesting a delay of school reopening across the Kingdom until November, when the new academic year begins. In his letter, Chuon Naron said the postponement is warranted to avoid the new

  • Foreigners in Kingdom must now register in FPCS system

    The Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Immigration (GDI) announced that it would not grant visa extensions to foreigners staying in Cambodia if their names are not listed on the Foreigners Present in Cambodia System (FPCS) by July 1. Foreign nationals can register in the

  • Covid-19 at ‘alarming rate’, health ministry says

    The Covid-19 risk level for individual transmission is at an “alarming rate” in the Kingdom and its probability is “not low”, warned Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine. “Cambodia’s coronavirus scenario is classified as being at an early stage of the pandemic because of ongoing

  • Mandatory quarantine for 30,000 workers begins

    Some of the roughly 30,000 workers from factories and enterprises across the Kingdom who went on leave during Khmer New Year began their government-imposed 14-day quarantine on Monday. Speaking at a press conference while visiting workers at the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone on Monday, Ministry

  • Unemployed to get $40 per month

    The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training has instructed enterprises, business owners and travel agencies in five provinces to prepare the proper forms for the suspension of employment contracts. This, it said, will make it easier for the ministry to transfer $40 a month to workers

  • Gov’t travel ban flouted

    While the majority of Cambodians have paid heed to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s order to stay put and not travel during the Khmer New Year – the holidays of which were also postponed – several hundred have left Phnom Penh nonetheless. They have allegedly breached provincial

  • G20 energy ministers struggle to finalise oil output cuts

    Top oil producers struggled to finalise production cuts during a virtual summit held by Group of 20 (G20) energy ministers on Friday, despite US President Donald Trump’s mediation efforts to end a standoff with Mexico. The final G20 communique appeared to gloss over simmering divisions

  • Kingdom revises travel restriction order

    The government on Friday eased the district and provincial border restrictions issued on Thursday. People are now allowed to cross districts within their provinces. Phnom Penh and Kandal province are to be treated as a single region where people are allowed to travel freely. In

  • Private schools struggling

    The Cambodian Higher Education Association has claimed that 113 private educational establishments are facing bankruptcy because of their inability to pay rent and staff salaries in light of nationwide school closures caused by the Covid-19 outbreak. It said the financial trouble started when the Ministry of

  • Khmer New Year holidays postponed

    In an effort to halt Covid-19 infections in the Kingdom, Prime Minister Hun Sen has postponed the Khmer New Year holidays scheduled from April 13 to 16. While the people will not have their usual break, nor will there be any public celebrations or gatherings at pagodas,