The body of a Chinese national who was a foreman at a sprawling cassava plantation owned by the Pheapimex Group was found in a pond in Pursat province on Monday night with a massive head wound likely inflicted by an ax, police said Wednesday.
Police said the body of Yang Liqing, 34, was discovered at about 8 p.m. by workers from the company in a pond on a construction site near Pheapimex’s property in Krakor district’s Chhoeu Tom commune.
In January 2012, another Chinese supervisor at the company was gunned down in broad daylight in the same area. Police never identified the gunman.
Pheapimex’s sprawling agro-industry complex, owned by Choeng Sopheap, the wife of CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin, employs thousands of Cambodian workers but is managed by a team of mostly Chinese nationals.
Mol Suth, the deputy district police chief who was in charge of the murder scene, said Yang Liqing was hacked with a sharp-bladed tool in the back of his head before being thrown into the pond.
“The Chinese man was killed by a machete or an ax blow to the back of his head,” he said.
Witnesses reported seeing the victim drive his motorcycle to several construction sites Monday evening to celebrate the Chinese lunar festival before heading home, Mr. Suth said.
“After visiting several construction sites, he left and rode his motorcycle home alone,” he said.
Police questioned five Pheapimex employees but have yet to make any arrests and are still investigating the crime.
The company’s cassava plantation in Krakor district sits on a controversial 315,028-hectare economic land concession—spanning parts of Pursat and Kompong Chhnang provinces—issued in 2000. The concession has sparked numerous protests over the years by villagers angry with the company for clearing what they claim is their land.
To Taing Eng, provincial technical and scientific police chief, examined Yang Liqing’s body after it was removed from the pond.
“The injury was 10 cm long, stretching from his left ear to the top of his head. Because the injury was so severe, we can be certain that the victim died before he was dumped into the water,” Mr. Taing Eng said.
Police attempted to drain the pond to search for evidence but were forced to stop when heavy rain began filling it again, he said.
Provincial penal police chief Seung Sopheak said police had ruled out robbery as a motive for the murder, as none of the victim’s property was missing.
“His phone and wallet were still in his pocket and his motorbike was found near the scene,” Mr. Sopheak said.
“Police have concluded that more than two suspects were involved in his murder because the victim was struck on the head and his body was carried from the road and then dumped into the pond,” he added.
Mr. Sopheak said that 3- to 4-meter-long skid marks on the road next to the scene suggested Yang Liqing had slammed on his brakes suddenly, possibly because one of his assailants had jumped out on the road to ambush him.
“We believe that one suspect stood in front of the victim to make him stop and when he did, at least one other suspect attacked him from behind,” he said.
Vorn Malin, a translator for Pheapimex in Pursat, said the company was cooperating with the provincial police’s investigation of the murder and had provided them with all relevant documents, along with the victim’s passport.
“This is the second time now that a Chinese supervisor at our company has been murdered. The first murder was Mr. Chang Fi Yiek, and now, it is Mr. Yang Liqing, but the police have not found any perpetrators,” Ms. Malin said.
“We don’t understand why he was killed. The previous victim was in charge of plantation workers, but Mr. Yang Liqing was only in charge of the company’s gasoline supply. We feel great remorse for their deaths and appeal to the police to find the murderers so that they can be brought to justice.”
A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy said it had not yet been informed about the incident.
In June, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced four men to a year in prison for stealing 50 tons of dried cassava from Pheapimex’s cassava plantation in Pursat, but only one of the men was ever arrested.
Asked if the convicted men who remain at large were suspects in the latest case, provincial penal police chief Seung Sophea said he would investigate the possibility.
“We will look into that case, but we believe it is more likely that the Chinese man had a dispute with local people or had been involved in an argument with someone,” Mr. Sophea said.
“Or it could be related to discrimination over his nationality,” he added.
(Additional reporting by Chan Cheuk Yin)