Father of Nightclub Fire Victims Paid to Keep Quiet

The father of two of the five people killed in a nightclub fire in Bavet City on Monday said Tuesday that representatives of the club’s owner paid him to not file a complaint with police.

The border town’s police chief, meanwhile, said he would not send the case to the Svay Rieng Provincial Court until he received formal complaints from the families of the victims.

An electrical short circuit likely started the fire at the Star nightclub—located within a larger entertainment complex in Bavet commune—at about 3 a.m. on Monday that killed five employees and seriously injured another, according to police.

Prak Vorn, 55, the father of Prak Peng, 18, and Prak Loy, 19, who both perished in the blaze, said that on Monday representatives of the club’s owner gave him 1 million riel, about $250, for each of his two sons.

On Tuesday, he said, they came back with more money—and a request.

“The company gave us $1,000 [for each son] and asked us not to file a complaint against them,” he said.

Mr. Vorn said he told the representatives that he wanted more money and they said they would ask their boss.

“They cannot pay this little money and walk away,” he said, adding that he would wait until after his sons’ funeral, which was set to take place Tuesday, to decide whether to file a complaint with police.

Keo Kong, the Bavet City police chief, said officers were still attempting to determine the cause of the fire and who was responsible for it.

“If the fire was caused by an electrical fault, the company has to bear responsibility because they didn’t build the [club] to standard,” he said.

Mr. Kong added that the case had not yet been sent to the provincial court.

“We are waiting for the victims’ complaints,” he said. “When we receive them, we will take action.”

Bavet City governor Chea Odom also said that if an electrical fault was determined to be the cause of the fire, the owner of the venue should be held liable.

“Generally, the company is responsible for this because they own the location,” Mr. Odom said.

According to Mr. Odom, if investigators find that the club’s staff caused the fire, then the owner must negotiate with the victims to find a suitable solution.

Multiple police and local officials involved in the case, however, have said that they did not know the owner’s identity.

On Monday, a Bavet City commune police official involved in the investigation, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said he believe the victims were killed because the nightclub had only one exit.

Mao Manith, 30, who was injured in the fire and transferred to Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital on Monday morning, confirmed Tuesday that there was only one way in or out of the club.

“There was only one way, and others could not escape because the fire was burning the exit,” Mr. Manith said, adding that he would not file a complaint against the owner because the fire was started accidentally.

Mr. Odom, the governor, said it is not the city’s responsibility to ensure that buildings conform to safety codes.

“It is the responsibility of the Ministry of Land Management, which approved the construction of this building, so we do not have the authority to do this work,” he said.

Seng Lot, a spokesman for the ministry, declined to comment.

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