Court Closes Investigation Into Murder of Analyst Kem Ley

The investigation into the July murder of popular political analyst Kem Ley has been closed, a Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman said on Wednesday, leaving his friends and family angry and the public with almost no answers about what many believe was a political assassination.

The suspected killer, a former soldier named Oeuth Ang, was arrested shortly after fleeing the scene—a gas station cafe in central Phnom Penh—and claimed to have murdered the analyst over a $3,000 debt.

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Mourners pay their respects to Kem Ley at Phnom Penh’s Wat Chas pagoda in July. (Pring Samrang/Reuters)

However, family and friends of both men have said Mr. Ang and Kem Ley never met, and even authorities have said they don’t believe the story and think that the killer was a hired gun. Who hired him, however, remains an open question, and the government’s secretive investigation into the case has only fueled speculation that it is covering up a state-sponsored hit.

Municipal court spokesman Ly Sophana said on Wednesday that Investigating Judge Seng Leang closed his probe on Friday, and was preparing to send the case file to the prosecutor’s office for a final recommendation on charges before it goes to a trial judge.

Kem Ley’s wife, Bou Rachana, who is living with their five sons in Thailand, was informed of the decision in a brief message from the court that circulated online on Wednesday.

“After investigating and collecting relevant evidence, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court decided to close the investigation in the case,” the message said.

Multiple court officials declined to discuss any specifics about the investigation, and Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said only that it had been carried out properly.

In the days after Kem Ley’s murder, tens of thousands of people—far more, according to some estimates—poured onto Phnom Penh’s streets for a funeral procession organized by a funeral committee made up of his friends and associates.

Supporters have continued to conduct their own investigation into the murder—largely through sharing information and images on Facebook—and press the government for answers and information, such as surveillance footage of the murder that police have refused to release.

It remains unclear if police have found answers to any of the questions that might reveal who, if anyone, conspired in the murder, such as who drove Mr. Ang from Siem Reap province to Phnom Penh in the days before the murder, with whom he stayed while in the city, how he obtained a pistol, and with whom he spoke in the weeks before Kem Ley was killed.

A friend of Mr. Ang told reporters in July that the former soldier had said he was going to take a new job with the army when he left Siem Reap, though military officials said he was not on their payroll. When reporters visited Mr. Ang’s hometown last month, relatives and neighbors said there was no sign that police were seeking any answers there.

But Buntenh, a monk and close friend of Kem Ley, said on Wednesday that he and other supporters of the slain analyst would send a clear message through social and mainstream media that they could not accept an end to the investigation without transparency and public consultation.

“If the court is not…fair in the process of finding justice and [does not] give us justice, we will continue our job as Kem Ley’s supporters. We will organize people and try to produce a message and [be] heard around the world,” he said.

But Buntenh said they would give the court a chance to respond to their demand for a more in-depth investigation before considering public protests.

“The political environment is not so good, so we will see in a concrete way if it is a possibility to gather the people,” he said. “We are prepared to sacrifice our lives for Kem Ley.”

Kem Ley’s brother, Kem Rithisith, said he had lost hope that the court would find justice for his brother and discover who was truly responsible for his death.

“I absolutely don’t believe that the murder involved only one person,” he said. “There were definitely people behind who ordered the murderer.”

(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)

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