At Large, Club Owner Offers Money to Families

The owner of a Phnom Penh nightclub where five people were killed in a fire last week has fled his home in Kandal province, but on Monday sent a proxy to police with an offer to compensate the victims’ families, officials said Tuesday.

The fire consumed the Key Club in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district on September 7 after a smoke machine short-circuited. Two employees and three teenage patrons were killed as people scrambled to locate the emergency exit since the front entrance was blocked by flames. It was the second deadly fire at the club in less than two years.

The families of the victims have requested $5,000 each in compensation from the club’s owner, while two security guards who were badly burned in the fire are asking for $2,000 and $60,000, according to police.

On Tuesday, deputy district police chief Meng Vemeandara said police were still searching for the owner of the club, 36-year-old Phon Bunthoeun, but that he had fled his house in Kandal’s Takhmao City and was at large. “He fled because he knows police are seeking to arrest him,” he said.

Mr. Vemeandara said that a representative of Mr. Bunthoeun, whom he refused to name, showed up at the district police station on Monday night with an offer to pay $1,500 to the families of each of the five dead and to cover the cost of medical treatment for the security guards.

“Even if there is a compromise between the victims and the club owner, the club owner will still face problems with the law,” he said. “Whether the club owner is put in jail or set free is up to the court.”

However, Kham Sophary, a deputy prosecutor at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said that if the families and Mr. Bunthoeun reach an agreement and the families withdraw their complaints the court would not proceed with the case because the fire was nobody’s fault.

“It was an act of god; nobody wanted it to happen,” he said.

Noun Sam Arth, whose 17-year-old daughter Sam Sreysros died in the blaze, said two representatives of Mr. Bunthoeun approached her after the funeral last week with an offer of $1,500 and that she turned them down. She said the men returned Monday with an offer of $2,000 and that she again said no but lowered her demand from $5,000 to $2,500.

“I urgently need money to pay for other things because I borrowed money for the funeral,” she said. “If I don’t get the amount I requested, I won’t drop the complaint.”

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