Former Bavet City governor Chhouk Bundith failed to show up Thursday to the Appeal Court for the rehearing of his case for shooting three garment workers in February 2012.
It has been more than 20 months since Chhouk Bundith opened fire into a crowd of protesting workers during a demonstration for higher wages and benefits at Svay Rieng province’s special economic zone, injuring three garment workers.
Since then, Chhouk Bundith’s case has bounced back and forth between the provincial court and Phnom Penh’s Appeal Court.
After the provincial court announced in December that it had dismissed all charges against Chhouk Bundith, who has powerful friends in the ruling CPP, the Appeal Court reopened the case following a request from the Justice Ministry, which cited the need for a thorough investigation.
Kay Visal, a lawyer for the ex-governor, said he had expected him to turn up for the hearing.
“My client knows about the hearing day because his wife had told him about it,” Mr. Visal said, declining to comment further on his client’s current whereabouts.
Witnesses who testified Thursday told a familiar story.
Major Keo Sokhorn, deputy Bavet City police chief, said that he saw Chhouk Bundith holding his handgun after the shots were fired and he helped him escape the scene.
“Chhouk Bundith was holding his handgun while he ran away. I told him to run to a nearby garment factory and I helped him to jump the factory’s fence,” Maj. Sokhorn said.
“I saw Chhouk Bundith hold the handgun and he pointed it toward the workers,” said Major Reach Bundith, a Bavet City military police official, adding that he did not see him shoot.
When the Appeal Court re-investigated the case in March, only one person, Long Phorn—who is the deputy police chief of Bavet City’s Prasat commune—testified to seeing the ex-governor pull the trigger.
Mr. Phorn was not in court Thursday to testify, but a court clerk read out his testimony.
“I saw Chhouk Bundith point a gun at the workers, and then the workers fell,” it said.
The three victims who suffered injuries—Bun Chenda, Keo Nea and Nuth Sakhorn—were also present Thursday to appeal to the court for higher compensations totaling about $140,000.
“I was shot from the back, so I don’t know who shot me, but I heard other workers shouting that it was the city governor who shot on workers and ran away,” said Ms. Sakhorn—who was wounded in her back and arm.
The ex-governor’s lawyer, Mr. Visal, appealed to the court to drop his client’s conviction, claiming there were no witnesses to the shooting.
“No one saw my client shoot on workers—it could have been a third person who shot them,” Mr. Visal said.
Presiding Judge Taing Sunlay said the verdict will be announced November 4.