Kandal Court Questions Six in Odong Relic Theft

The Kandal Provincial Court last week questioned five men who have been detained since December over the theft of ancient Buddhist relics from Odong mountain, alongside the suspect who in February confessed to carrying out the robbery unaided, a court official said Monday.

Earlier this month, Investigating Judge Lim Sokuntha said the court was holding the five men it arrested in December in order to ensure that anyone who was involved with the heist would be punished. He said Monday it was still premature to announce the court’s findings.

“I questioned them all face-to-face on Wednesday, June 11,” Judge Sokuntha said. “I cannot reveal any information. It must remain secret as there is a little bit more investigating left to do.”

The theft of the Buddha relics, which had been given by Sri Lanka to Cambodia and installed in a stupa atop Odong mountain in 2002, provoked widespread outrage, especially among the Buddhist clergy, who accused the government of lacking urgency in its efforts to recover the artifacts.

In response, the police arrested three Odong mountain security guards—Chorm Thai, 57; Sieng Sarin, 58; and Ka Sak, 46—and the chief of security at the stupa, Pha Sokhem, 59, alongside 39-year-old motorcycle taxi driver, Kann Sopheak. All five were charged with the theft.

In February, Keo Reaksmey, a 24-year-old with a history of petty theft, was arrested and charged with the theft. He later confessed to snatching the treasures by creeping past the sleeping night guards and breaking into the $4.5-million stupa with a hammer and screwdriver.

Family members of the five visited the court last week and said Monday they hoped their six-month ordeal in prison would soon be over.

“The suspect who confessed told the court that he committed the crime by himself,” said Roeun Phalla, daughter of Chorm Thai.

Sieng Sarin’s daughter, Sieng Chamroeun, said her father had asked the government to help ensure he and the four other men were freed.

“He appealed to the court and to the government to release them because they are innocent of this crime,” she said. “I hope they will be acquitted later this month.”

sovuthy@cambodiadaily.com

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