High-ranking police officials are blocking the investigation into the recent stabbing death of a Chinese national involved in smuggling illegal immigrants into Cambodia, a judicial police official charged Wednesday.
Tom Vai, deputy chief of Kandal judicial police, said he has been told by superiors not to dig deeper into the Sept 19 murder of 39-year-old Cxai Lee and fears demotion or even physical harm if he pursues the case.
“They [police superiors] close my mouth all the time, and they ban me from any further investigation of the case,” he said.
Bith Kim Hong, deputy chief of Phnom Penh municipal police, said Wednesday that he knew nothing about the Kandal police investigation being suppressed.
“I don’t know who wants to close [Tom Vai’s] mouth speaking about the case,” said Bith Kim Hong, adding the allegations made by Tom Vai are damaging.
Chinese gangsters are believed to be involved in the stabbing death of Cxai Lee in the Ang Snuol district of Kandal province, Bith Kim Hong and Tom Vai have said.
Police say the victim was taken from Le President Hotel in Phnom Penh at 3:30 am Sept 19 and driven by five men to a worksite where he was stabbed with a bayonet at least 16 times in the chest and side. Witnesses said the men who killed Cxai Lee spoke Chinese, Tom Vai said.
Speaking shortly after the murder, Tom Vai said the Chinese gang made their escape from the murder scene in a white Toyota Camry with police registration plates. Tom Vai said he was poised to interview the owner of the car last Wednesday when he was told to back off the case.
“Even when I open the way to investigate who the Chinese rented the car from…they ban me from further investigation. If I know who is involved my police stripes might fall off my shoulders. I cannot investigate anymore,” he said.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Wednesday that he knew no details of the murder investigation or of alleged pressure on Tom Vai. “The investigation must be done because there is a victim, but I don’t know about the result,” said Khieu Sopheak.
The murder of Cxai Lee spurred an attempted escape the next day of four illegal Chinese immigrants, who maintain that Lee had brought them to Cambodia, offering to help them reach Western countries.
Twenty-five Chinese were arrested after the four tried to jump out of a first-floor window of a house in Chamkar Mon district.
Police have not been forthcoming about suspects in the murder.
According to Hor Satha, the deputy police chief for Tuol Kok district, municipal police are continuing to investigate Cxai Lee’s murder, but have no suspects. “We’re still hunting the killers,” Hor Satha said.
At least three Chinese nationals were caught shortly after the murder when they returned to Le President Hotel to look for Cxai Lee, both Hor Satha and Bith Kim Hong said this week.
The three were questioned on the murder, cleared of any ties to the slaying, and remain under detention because they lack legal entry papers, Hor Satha said. They are being held with the other 25 Chinese at Immigration Police headquarters, he said.
A separate group of more than 200 illegal Chinese were quietly deported last week, roughly a month after they were nabbed in a sweep ordered by First Deputy Governor Chea Sophara. Immigration Police Chief Prok Saroeun said Tuesday that it was unclear if the government had the funds to care for the latest batch of prisoners.
(Additional reporting by Seth Meixner)