The opposition CNRP on Monday urged the government to thoroughly investigate the assault charge laid against a party official in Banteay Meanchey province for allegedly driving into a police officer, who appeared to fall to the ground without actually being hit in video footage of the incident.
Mang Puthy, the CNRP’s deputy head of operations in Poipet City, was accused of driving his car into Chhean Pisith, deputy chief of the Poipet International Border Checkpoint, on Thursday and charged by the provincial court on Saturday with aggravated intentional violence, punishable by up to five years in prison.
Video footage of the incident posted to Facebook, however, shows Mr. Puthy’s SUV barely in motion when Mr. Pisith, who is standing directly in front of the vehicle, suddenly collapses to the ground and remains motionless for several moments. He is later carried away by ambulance in a neck brace.
Witnesses invariably told reporters that Mr. Pisith was not struck by the SUV, and the filmed flop was ridiculed online as an Oscar-worthy performance.
During a plenary session of the National Assembly on Monday, CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said the opposition was not drawing conclusions in the Poipet case, but questioned the criminal charge.
“I ask the government to investigate this case clearly because it is very important…because it could impact the government’s reputation and cause the value of authorities to decrease,” he said.
Attempting to poke holes in the case, Mr. Chhay Eang noted that Mr. Puthy did not attempt to flee the scene, as drivers often do after car accidents resulting in injuries or death. He noted, too, that Mr. Pisith continued to clutch his walkie-talkie on the ground, suggesting that he may have actually suffered an epileptic seizure.
“His hand was still holding it, so he might have a disease such as epilepsy,” he said. “What is important is that I ask [Interior Minister Sar Kheng] to please take measures to investigate and find justice for both the driver and the police officer.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen took the floor briefly to mock the opposition lawmaker over his medical musings.
“I should admire His Excellency Eng Chhay Eang for becoming an examination doctor,” he said. “They collapsed. They hold it or don’t hold it…. His Excellency would make a better doctor than a lawmaker.”
Speaking with reporters after the session, Mr. Kheng said Interior Ministry and Banteay Meanchey officials were already on the case.
“I have ordered the general department of immigration and the Banteay Meanchey provincial authorities to investigate this case,” he said.
Provincial and ministry officials, however, said on Monday that their work was done and that the case now lay solely with the courts.
“The case is now out of our hands,” said deputy provincial police chief Sith Luos. “Of course we can reinvestigate if there is an official order from the upper levels.”
He declined to answer when asked how many witnesses his officers interviewed and referred the question to Poipet checkpoint chief Sim Sam Ath, who hung up on a reporter.
Sok Phal, who heads the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, declined to comment.
Department spokesman Keo Vanthan insisted that the incident had been thoroughly investigated and stood by the court’s charge.
“The immigration police officer, who is the victim of this incident, got injured on his thigh as a result of being hit, and the injury was examined and treated at the hospital,” he said. “The result is that the vehicle really hit the victim.”
He said Mr. Puthy was charged with aggravated intentional violence, not with attempted murder as rights workers had previously reported.
Court officials could not be reached on Monday.