A Chinese supervisor whose body was found in a pond in Pursat province’s Krakor district on Monday may have been murdered by Chinese co-workers jealous of the 34-year-old’s managerial position at Pheapimex Group’s cassava plantation, police said on Thursday.
The body of Yang Liqing—a manager of the gasoline supply for the powerful agribusiness company owned by Choeng Sopheap, the wife of CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin—was discovered floating in a pond on a construction site in Chhoeu Tom commune Monday night with a head wound likely inflicted by an ax or machete.
In January 2012, another Chinese supervisor working for Pheapimex was shot dead in broad daylight in the same area. Police never identified the gunman.
Local residents have long been feuding over land with the company, which is managed by mostly Chinese workers who live in the area. Police initially said the murder might have been racially motivated.
But on Thursday, deputy provincial police chief Keo Sokunthea said investigators’ focus had shifted—they now suspected the multiple perpetrators may have been other Chinese nationals, even colleagues of the slain supervisor.
“After investigating these past few days, we suspect that the perpetrators could be Chinese, as about 33 Chinese nationals were out drinking and celebrating the [Chinese] lunar festival,” he said.
Mr. Sokunthea said interviews with Yang Liqin’s colleagues led police to believe a Chinese employee in a less senior role at the company might have murdered Yang Ligin in order to be promoted.
“We suspect that this murder might have happened out of jealousy…some people might have been jealous of his position,” he said.
But Mr. Sokunthea conceded that police had no hard evidence to support this theory.
“We are not sure if this is true, we are merely speculating. We will have to investigate some more to solve the murder, but we hope that we will be able to crack the case and find justice for the victim,” he said.
Mr. Sokunthea added that after failing to pump water out of the pond on Tuesday due to heavy rain, police drained the pool on Thursday to search for evidence and recovered the victim’s iPad.
Soeung Sopheak, the provincial penal police officer in charge of the murder case, said Thursday the investigation was progressing slowly, as police were struggling to communicate with Chinese authorities and witnesses.
“It is very difficult to communicate with the Chinese nationals involved in this case because we cannot speak Chinese and they cannot speak Khmer,” he said.
San Long, police chief of Chhoeu Tom commune, said language was not the only barrier to the investigation.
“We have tried to question them but the Chinese don’t want to cooperate with us. They just keep saying that they don’t know anything or are too busy,” he said.
“There are a lot of Chinese nationals in the area, but they have never provided any documents, so we cannot find out how many are living here.”
Vorn Malin, a translator for Pheapimex in Pursat, said Thursday that she had no new information about the case. No other company representatives could be reached.
Chinese Embassy spokesman Cheng Hong Bo said the embassy had contacted police in Pursat in order to identify the victim and confirm that he was a Chinese national, but that neither the victim’s family nor employers had reached out to officials.
“So far, we do not have any further information about the background of the victim,” he said.
Chak Thy, a 39-year-old villager who has been involved in protests against Pheapimex, said that while he did not know who murdered Yang Liqing, it was no secret that locals resented the Chinese employees living in their area.
“We do not know who killed [either Chinese supervisor]. But we know that many people here don’t like them because of the land dispute,” he said.