Court Orders Ministry Official’s Release After Fatal Crash

Nuon Someth, an undersecretary of state at the Tourism Ministry, was arrested last week after a traffic accident in Kandal province that left one man dead but released early the next day on orders from a court prosecutor after arranging compensation for the family.

According to investigators, witnesses said that Mr. Someth, a former deputy governor of Phnom Penh, was not at fault.

Contacted on Monday, deputy Kien Svay district police chief Prum Samnang said witnesses reported that Mr. Someth was driving toward Phnom Penh on National Road 1 when an oncoming truck straddling the centerline clipped his vehicle on the left, puncturing his front left tire.

According to Mr. Samnang, witnesses said Mr. Someth then lost control of his vehicle and veered into the oncoming lane, where he hit a motorbike carrying Mith Sothea and his wife Khorn Yeth.

He said Mith Sothea, 38, died at the scene and that his wife was sent to the hospital.

“Our police detained him because his car hit the victim’s motorbike,” Mr. Samnang said. “He denied that he drove into the motorbike, saying the Korean truck hit his car and made the left tire flat. So our conclusion is that his car got a flat and hit the motorbike.”

The deputy police chief said Mr. Someth’s family negotiated compensation with Mith Sothea’s family but did not know the amount.

“At about 10:57 p.m., the prosecutor [Lim Sokuntha] sent a message via WhatsApp to the Kien Svay police chief ordering his release,” he said. “It was the prosecutor’s decision to release him.”

Mr. Samnang said the case would still be sent to court, however, and that Mr. Someth was made to sign a contract promising to come to court when summoned.

Mr. Someth hung up on a reporter when contacted on Monday by telephone.

Sarom Sokha, a nephew of Mith Sothea, said the family accepted $5,500 from Mr. Someth’s family and so would not press charges. He said Ms. Yeth was sent to Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital.

“She is still in the emergency room…. The bones in her neck were broken in three places and the doctor said she had little hope of surviving,” he said. “We negotiated compensation with the family of the driver of the car because we need the money for the victim, because the victim does not have money for the hospital.”

Mr. Sokuntha, the prosecutor, said he ordered Mr. Someth’s release for several reasons.

“I allowed him to go home because he asked, and the police report said he did not drive his car into the motorbike—that another truck hit his car and his car crashed into the victim’s motorbike,” he said. “Another reason is because he paid $5,500 in compensation to the victim’s family already, and he is a senior government official with a clear place of work and home address.”

Police say they are searching for the truck that allegedly hit Mr. Someth’s car and fled the scene.

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