The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday released two employees of the Sofitel hotel after they were charged Wednesday with stealing more than $200,000 worth of jewelry from the locker of a three-star general, the investigating judge said.
Police arrested Louk Sareth, 32, and Samrith Raksmey, 34, on Saturday after Lieutenant General Siek Socheat—the head of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces’ border affairs office at the Defense Ministry—noticed it was missing from his locker after swimming at the hotel’s pool last Friday.
Police said Ms. Sareth and Mr. Raksmey—a receptionist and swimming instructor, respectively—used a spare key to open Lt. Gen. Socheat’s locker and steal the jewelry after he and his bodyguard left the locker room.
Investigating Judge Mong Mony Sorphea said Thursday that he decided to temporarily release the suspects while the court continues its investigation because they were not considered flight risks.
“They have homes and a job and we hope they will not escape to anywhere,” he said.
Judge Mony Sorphea added that the court would question everyone involved in the case, including Lt. Gen. Socheat’s bodyguard, declining to comment further.
Cheng Phanny, a lawyer for both suspects, said he had asked the judge to question Lt. Gen. Socheat’s bodyguard because the CCTV footage from the hotel shows that he was in the locker room when the theft occurred.
“I think the deputy prosecutor charged my clients without a full understanding of the elements of the crime and the evidence,” he said.
Hun Sam Ath, Lt. Gen. Socheat’s lawyer, said that the CCTV footage did not show the theft itself.
“I will wait for the court to investigate further,” he added.
As Judge Mony Sorphea questioned the suspects Thursday morning, about 30 Sofitel employees waited outside the courthouse, while another 20 waited inside.
You Virak, 40, the head of the hotel’s independent union, said the staff were at the courthouse because they had also watched the CCTV footage and believed their colleagues to be innocent.
“Our staff did not take his jewelry like he accused,” Mr. Virak said.
In a statement, the Sofitel praised the court’s decision to release both suspects.
“The Club and Hotel Management maintains the original position whereby CCTV evidence supports the innocence of these Ambassadors [staff],” it says.
(Additional reporting by Chris Mueller)