French Judge to Investigate Death of Family

An investigating judge from France will arrive in Cambodia next month to probe the deaths of a Frenchman and his four children, whose decomposed bodies were recovered from a pond at their home in Kompong Speu prov­ince early last year, court and embassy officials said on Monday.

The remains of Laurent Vallier, 42, and his four young children, aged 2 to 9 years old, were found inside the Frenchman’s submerged car when police discovered the vehicle at the bottom of a man-made pond behind their Kompong Speu house in January 2012.

Laurent Vallier’s family in France suspects foul play and has lodged a court complaint there alleging that he was involved in a bitter land dispute with his late wife’s Cam­bo­dian relatives—a claim the in-laws have strenuously denied.

“A French investigating judge is coming to Cambodia and will work on the Vallier case; she is arriving on 10 March,” French Embassy First Secretary Nicolas Baudouin said in an email.

“She is the one in charge of the investigation and therefore she will decide on its schedule while staying in Cambodia,” Mr. Baudouin said.

“She will go to Kompong Speu and work closely with her Cambodian counterpart in charge of the case and all the services dealing with the investigation.”

In their initial investigation, Cam­bodian police said Laurent Vallier had killed himself and his four children by intentionally driving his car into the deep pond. Police characterized the murder-suicide as an act of despair by a man in fi­nancial difficulties. However, close friends and family of Laurent Vallier dismissed the theory, noting that the Frenchman was a devoted father and was not in a distraught state when last seen alive in September 2011—some four months before his body and those of his children, Mickael, Johan, Sovann and Rasmey, were finally found.

Asked if the French investigator had ruled out murder, Mr. Bau­douin said the judge had ruled out nothing as of yet.

“I don’t think that she has [ever] ruled out any possibility,” he said. “It is part of the judge’s re­sponsibility to investigate this point, and obviously we cannot make any pre­mature comment on it.”

Early last month, Kompong Speu Provincial Court investigating Judge Chhim Ritthy said he and his staff were also looking at the possibility of murder.

But after a visit to the site on Tuesday—accompanied by pro­vincial and district police and Interior Ministry officials—and looking into Laurent Vallier’s fi­nances, Mr. Ritthy said that he suspected suicide.

“We checked his [bank] account and it contained only $1, and the victim tried to borrow about $4,000 to $5,000 from two French friends but they did not allow him,” Mr. Ritthy said. “I can preliminarily conclude that this is a suicide because he was broke and disappointed.”

Mr. Ritthy said an inspection of the house belonging to Laurent Val­l­ier also turned up a calendar turned to September 18, 2011, and five empty glasses on a table. He declined to comment on their significance.

On January 24, the court also questioned Laurent Vallier’s father-in-law, mother-in-law and sister-in-law to find out how they came to acquire nine land titles in Prey Veng province’s Kompong Trabek district that had belonged to the Frenchman. At his questioning, Laurent Vallier’s father-in-law, Tith Chhuon, alleged that lo­cal village and commune chiefs in Prey Veng pressured him into obtaining the land titles.

Two of those named by the father-in-law, Chrey commune chief Khann Pheach and Phnov village chief Pol Phat, were summoned by the Kompong Speu Pro­vincial Court for questioning on January 24 along with Laurent Vallier’s in-laws, but they failed to attend the scheduled hearing.

The commune and village chiefs both blamed their absence from court on their inability to af­ford the trip to Kompong Speu.

Both officials have been sum­monsed by the court to appear again on March 11.

Mr. Ritthy, the investigating judge, said he sent out the two new summonses on Monday.

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