After Shooting, Court Releases Army Major Without Explanation

An army major who shot into the ceiling of a Battambang City karaoke parlor on Sunday night was released without charge on Tuesday to the consternation of police, who say the officer has a history of violent behavior and should be prosecuted.

Roat Serey Panha, deputy director of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces’ provincial finance department, had been drinking heavily with a colleague inside a private room at Princess Karaoke when he realized his iPhone was missing from his pocket and flew into a rage, according to police.

Mr. Panha then stormed outside to retrieve his military-issue Glock from his Toyota SUV, returned to the room and fired a single round into the ceiling at about 10:30 p.m., police said.

The disturbance led other patrons to flee the establishment without paying, and the owner asked police to punish the military officer in accordance with the law. Although police initially said Mr. Panha would be turned over to his unit for internal military discipline, it was later decided that he would remain in custody at the provincial police headquarters and sent to court.

But after police took Mr. Panha to the Battambang Provincial Court on Tuesday afternoon to be questioned—and possibly charged—a deputy prosecutor allowed the major to walk free, officials said.

Oeun Raden, the provincial police officer who brought Mr. Panha to the court, said he was confused by the decision.

“The court did not charge the offender, and the deputy prosecutor, Heng Luy, told the offender to go home after questioning him this afternoon,” Mr. Raden said. “I do not know why the court released him. The deputy prosecutor just said, ‘The case is finished and you can go home.’”

Meng Leang, chief of the provincial police’s minor crimes bureau—who on Monday noted that Mr. Panha had discharged his pistol under similar circumstances about a month ago—said he had forwarded a police report to the court that formally accused the major of unlawfully using a firearm. The crime, according to Article 20 of the Law on the Management of Weapons, Explosives and Ammunition, carries a prison sentence of between six months and two years.

Mr. Luy, the prosecutor, refused to explain the court’s decision to release Mr. Panha, saying only that his crimes were not worthy of being prosecuted.

“This was a minor crime…so we cannot detain the offender,” he said.

“I have no time to give you a detailed explanation because I am busy,” he added. “I’m tired of explaining this to you because you do not understand the law.”

Mr. Leang, the bureau chief, said he was “disappointed” by the court’s decision, but not surprised.

“I am disappointed because we arrested some offenders and the court released them,” he said, explaining that in his experience, prosecutors at the Battambang court made seemingly arbitrary decisions without consulting police.

“I don’t dare ask the prosecutors for more detailed information because when I arrest some offenders and send those people to the court and ask the prosecutors about them, they get angry and say to me, ‘Why do you want to know about the case?’”

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