Phnom Penh’s jailed former police chief Heng Pov appeared at Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday to answer a judge’s questions about the 2004 murder of Free Trade Union President Chea Vichea.
Yesterday’s questioning of Mr Pov was the first formal acknowledgement that the municipal court was actively investigating the matter. The court, which originally heard the case in 2005, was directed to reinvestigate the union leader’s slaying by the Court of Appeal in September.
Mr Pov’s lawyer, Kao Soupha, said yesterday that the court had invited his client for questioning because it wanted to find Chea Vichea’s “real murderers.”
Chea Vichea was shot dead in broad daylight at a newsstand near Wat Langka in Phnom Penh on Jan 22, 2004.
Citing a lack of evidence, the Supreme Court in December 2008 reopened the case, granting bail to Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, who were convicted in the slaying in 2005.
Prior to his 2006 arrest in Kuala Lumpur, Heng Pov had claimed that he was given orders by National Police Commissioner Hok Lundy to frame Mr Samnang and Mr Sam Oeun. Cambodian officials denied all of Heng Pov’s claims at the time. Hok Lundy died in a 2008 helicopter crash.
As he walked out of a courtroom flanked by more than a dozen prison guards yesterday, Mr Pov told a reporter that he did not want to talk about his questioning.
“I do not want to speak about this case,” he said.
While fleeing Cambodian authorities who sought his arrest on a host of gangsterism charges including murder and kidnapping, Mr Pov in August 2006 granted an interview at an undisclosed location to the French newsmagazine L’Express, claiming that police Mr Samnang and Mr Sam Oeun had been framed.
Mr Pov said that Hok Lundy, the national police chief, had told him the suspects were arrested solely on the basis of an accusation made to police.
“It did not take long for me to understand that the two suspects, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, had nothing to do with the murder,” Mr Pov was quoted as saying.
Judge Seng Neang confirmed that Mr Pov was questioned about the case yesterday but declined to comment further.
“I can not speak about the case with reporters because the case is under investigation,” Mr Neang said.
Mr Pov is currently serving a 100-year jail term for convictions stemming from his time in the Phnom Penh police.
Sok Sam Oeun, the executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project who bears no relation to the recently freed convict, said yesterday that Mr Pov would know all of the details of the original investigation and that his previous comments about their innocence should be considered.
Am Sam Ath, a monitor for the human rights organization Licadho, also pointed to Mr Pov’s previous statement about the innocence of Mr Samnang and Mr Sam Oeun.
“I plead with the police to find the real murderers…rather than take [action against] the fake murderers to hide” the truth, Mr Sam Ath said yesterday.
Chea Mony, Chea Vichea’s brother and current Free Trade Union president, said yesterday that Mr Pov may know details about who really killed his brother.
“Mr Sam Oeun and Mr Samnang were not the real murderers,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Mark Worley)