Ministry of Interior police on Thursday arrested and charged the chief of Lboeuk commune in Kampot province for allegedly ordering the deaths of a man and his wife in what some labeled the first political killing related to the upcoming commune elections.
So Phan (Fun), who headed a Ministry of Interior investigation into the case, said authorities arrested commune chief Im Nan (CPP) on Thursday morning after luring him to a meeting.
Officials arrived in the southern province on Wednesday for a small government ceremony. The next morning they went to Im Nan’s house and invited him to ride in the car with them, said So Phan, a deputy penal police chief based in Phnom Penh.
They then presented him with a warrant for his arrest that had been issued by the provincial prosecutor. At first, Im Nan denied the charges, but then confessed that he paid two men 170,000 riel ($45) to shoot Pak Chhoeun and his wife, Doung Meas, according to So Phan.
Im Nan was put in the provincial jail while police hunted for the two other suspects, So Phan said.
Pak Chhoeun and Doung Meas were gunned down June 3 while tending their rice field in a nearby commune. Pak Chhoeun was fourth on a list of Funcinpec candidates recently selected to run in the upcoming commune elections and had been a Funcinpec member since 1993.
So Phan would not say whether the killing was political on Thursday, as he spoke by telephone from a dinner in Kampot with officials from both parties.
He did say the suspect hated the victim because he thought he had magical powers over people.
The slayings had a chilling effect on other election candidates and sparked a flurry of investigations, including a government operation led by So Phan at the order of co-Ministers of Interior Sar Kheng and You Hockry, and National Police Chief Hok Lundy.
Human rights groups also investigated the case, finding conflicting reports. Many villagers told them Im Nan, known as a strict commune leader, was concerned about Pak Chhoeun’s popularity among potential voters and had him killed. The commune chief’s home was only 100 meters away from that of the victim.
But the victim’s children said they were not aware of any political activity in their household, and Im Nan denied to human rights workers he was involved.
Kem Sokha, who heads the Senate’s human rights committee, which also investigated the case, said Thursday he was pleased about the arrest but shied away from confirming that the killing was 100 percent political.
“I think it was personal,” he said. “He was afraid of losing his powerful position.”