A Cambodian-American man accused of assaulting a group of reporters at the scene of a car crash in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district on Monday was released from police custody Wednesday.
Moeun Saramith, 32, was arrested at about 1 a.m. near Wat Phnom after seven reporters covering the crash, which involved a car with police license plates, alleged that they were assaulted, robbed of their camera gear and shot at by those involved in the accident.
The journalists filed a complaint against Mr. Saramith, who was the only person apprehended Monday night, while police on Tuesday said they were searching for 10 other people involved in the incident.
But at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Mr. Saramith was released from the custody of the Daun Penh district police, according to deputy district police chief Yin Sophal.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Keo Socheat said the court had decided not to charge Mr. Saramith after determining that he had not physically harmed anyone.
Mr. Socheat said that witnesses to the clash, whom he declined to identify, told him Mr. Saramith had not been involved in assaulting the journalists.
“The witnesses claim that they did not see [Mr. Saramith] beat the journalists, but they saw people with cameras surrounding him,” he said.
“According to our investigations, the suspect arrived at the scene 30 minutes after the accident. He told us that after the accident, he came to prevent them [from arguing] because he loves the Khmer people, but he was surrounded by local reporters who were taking his photograph.”
The deputy prosecutor said he believed the journalists were not harmed during the incident.
“One of the seven journalists fell down, and then another shouted that someone was beating journalists,” he said. “If they were beaten, where are their injuries?”
Mr. Socheat did acknowledge that shots were fired during the altercation that broke out after the crash.
“We found two shells near the scene and we are investigating to find the perpetrators,” he said.
Mr. Saramith said he felt vindicated by the court’s decision to release him. On the night of the crash, he said, he was driving near Wat Phnom after returning from a wedding party.
“We were just driving and arrived at Wat Phnom and drove around there. We saw people mobbing so we parked the car to look at them because in the U.S. there is not trouble like this,” said Mr. Saramith, who lives in Los Angeles County.
“When I saw them having an argument, I tried to prevent them,” he said. “But one of the reporters from CNC pretended to fall down and accused me of beating him.”
Mr. Saramith admitted that he had been driving the car with police license plates, which was impounded on Monday night, saying he had borrowed the vehicle from his friend.
“I was borrowing my friend’s car to drive around in Phnom Penh before I go back to the U.S. next month,” he said.