Warrants have yet to be issued for the wife of a prominent politician and two bodyguards allegedly behind a Dec 6 acid attack that left an 18-year-old karaoke actress disfigured for life, police and court officials confirmed.
And officials admit that it’s possible the prime suspect has fled the country in the meantime.
On Monday, police blamed the courts for the delay in issuing the arrest warrants, while a court official criticized the police for not making immediate arrests based on witnesses at the scene. Officials said a travel ban was issued last week against the prime suspect, but they admitted she may have fled the country before that.
“I heard the rumor that she fled to Singapore, but I’m not sure,” said Khuon Sophon, municipal penal police chief. “I don’t know where the two bodyguards are, police are still looking for them.”
Khun Sophal, the wife of Council of Ministers Undersecretary of State Svay Sitha, and two bodyguards allegedly doused karaoke actress Tang Samarina with 5 liters of nitric acid at a market in Phnom Penh during the afternoon of Dec 6.
Legal experts see the case as a test of if Cambodia courts are committed to the rule of law, or if it will become another example of the culture of impunity.
Chamkar Mon District Police Chief Lok Lon defended the slow handling of the case Monday, saying that the investigation was hampered by a high ranking police officer who prevented district police from detaining a vehicle left at the scene of the crime by the attackers. Police said the vehicle was owned by Svay Sitha, a former adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“Police sent the complaint file to the court seeking an arrest warrant, but the court said there was not enough information and asked for more personal background information [on the suspects]. Now police have sent this also,” complained Lok Lon.
Said Khuon Sophon: “The court has not issued an arrest warrant yet. I don’t know why. [But] if the court issues an arrest warrant police will enforce it.”
But Chhin Chiva, acting director of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said Sunday he is baffled why police did not arrest the three immediately.
He noted that Khun Sophal and the two bodyguards were seen by numerous witnesses carrying out the attack, but that the police hesitated to move against the wife of a powerful official.
“This is the thing I do not understand. Shortly after she and her bodyguards carried out the attack the police did not file the case to the courts. Then a dozen days later they sent it to us but everything was over. The red-handed case became a suspect case,” said Chhin Chiva. In other words, he said, the courts then needed more evidence to issue an arrest warrant.
According to Chhin Chiva, the issue now is being dealt with by the Ministry of Justice. But Justice Minister Uk Vithun denied Monday that the ministry has any involvement in the case. “The courts are saying this to get away from the case,” he said.
Meanwhile, medical staff at Kosamak Hospital said Sunday that Tang Samarina’s condition has improved. However, four bodyguards kept all but family members from visiting.