Belgian national Olivier Van den Bogaert, 40, was charged on Friday, based on a witness statement, with the murder of Frenchwoman Ophelie Begnis, 25, in Kampot province earlier this year.
The charge of “murder preceded or followed by torture, cruelty or rape,” comes more than two months after Ophelie Begnis’ naked and battered body was dredged from the river that runs through the town on February 10.
The Frenchwoman was on holiday in Kampot at the time of her murder.
Mr. Van den Bogaert was detained for questioning in Kampot town on Tuesday evening following the intervention of Lieutenant General Mok Chito, director of the central judicial police department at the Ministry of Interior in Phnom Penh.
A 30-year-old Cambodian man, Nop Pheakdey, was also detained with the Belgian national and was described as a suspect in the murder investigation on Thursday, but on Friday, it emerged that he is now the witness in the case against Mr. Van den Bogaert. As a witness, Mr. Pheakdey was released from custody without charge on Friday, police said.
“I received the case this afternoon. He has been charged with murder according to Article 205 of the Criminal Code,” Kampot provincial court investigating Judge Hong Sokun Vathana said, declining to provide any details.
Mr. Van den Bogaert is now being held in pretrial detention at Kampot Provincial Prison.
Mr. Van den Bogaert, who formerly owned the Olly’s Place guesthouse in Kampot’s Toek Chhou district, was taken from police custody to court for his arraignment, which appears to rest on the discovery of a bicycle that may or may not have been ridden by the victim, and on Mr. Pheakdey.
“A witness saw the suspect [Mr. Van den Bogaert] with the bicycle, and then the bike was brought to the guesthouse where the victim stayed. It was identified as the victim’s,” National Police spokesman Lieutenant General Kirth Chantharith said on Friday.
“We have evidence [the bicycle] and the witness claims that [the Belgian] is involved in this, but the police are still investigating,” Lt. Gen. Chantharith added.
On Thursday, Sam Sophea, the owner of Les Menguiers guesthouse, where the Frenchwoman stayed, and from where she rented the bicycle she was cycling on at the time of her murder, said she had been asked by police on Tuesday to identify a bicycle. Ms. Sophea said that she was in Phnom Penh, so she sent a staff member instead. The staff member, who is not responsible for bicycles at the guesthouse, said he was “not fully sure—about 70 to 75 percent sure” that the bike belonged to the guesthouse, she said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, a provincial police officer confirmed that Mr. Pheakdey is now the witness, and said the bicycle was discovered next to a durian plantation in Toek Chhou district, “about 3 to 4 kilometers from where the victim was found.”
Thierry Balimier, honorary consul at the Belgian Consulate in Phnom Penh, said he was awaiting further information from Kampot on Friday, but said Mr. Van den Bogaert had legal representation.
“The lawyer was chosen by himself or his family,” he said.
Ophelie Begnis sustained serious wounds to her body, but no crime scene has ever been identified, and no clothes or personal belongings have ever been found either, apart from the bicycle that police have not presented as evidence.
(Additional reporting by Lauren Crothers)