The daughter of a prominent French-Cambodian businessman was kidnapped and freed last week, the latest in a spate of abductions terrorizing the capital’s affluent.
The 29-year-old victim was released late Friday, unharmed after a two-and-a-half-day ordeal during which she was held in Takeo province while her family negotiated the ransom, police said Monday.
Khaou Veary, the daughter of developer Khaou Chuly, was abducted Wednesday night at gunpoint in front of Chaktomuk Theater, moments after leaving the Hotel Sofitel Cambodiana.
Four employees of the prominent hotel have been arrested in connection with the kidnapping, which came just days after the abduction and murder of a hotel employee’s son, police say.
Khaou Veary, who works for an advertising agency and holds Cambodian and French passports, had just left her office at the Cambodiana when at least four men dressed in traffic police uniforms pulled over her vehicle and removed her at gunpoint, according to Phnom Penh’s Deputy Military Police Chief Ung Depor.
While being held captive, Khaou Veary was struck in the head with a blunt object but was otherwise not seriously harmed, a source close to the family said.
“It was terrifying,” he said. “She was scared for her life. And we were afraid for her life. The family still lives in fear.”
Kidnappers originally demanded $500,000, and the family negotiated, during which time the kidnappers threatened the lives of other members of Khaou Chuly’s family, according to the source.
“The kidnappers told her they used to cut trees, but now they kidnap people,” the source said. “This is organized crime.”
She was released Friday night following a $180,000 payment, Ung Depor and the source said.
Police arrested four security guards from the Cambodiana on Sunday in connection with the abduction, Municipal Judicial Police Chief Ek Kreth said Monday.
The suspects—Seng Huy, Sam Sony, Eim Pau, and Chea Vuthy—are police officers in addition to their hotel jobs, Ung Depor said. Police said they believe the motive for the kidnapping was money and that there was no personal dispute with the family.
Khaou Chuly, director of the Khaou Chuly Group of Companies, spent most of Cambodia’s wartime in France. He returned to Phnom Penh shortly after the 1991 Peace Accords were signed in Paris. In late 1995, he was robbed of $120,000 en route to a local bank, reportedly by his bodyguard and driver.
The suspects in the kidnapping case were arrested Sunday at their homes in Phnom Penh after the men were identified in hotel staff photos, police officials said.
The suspects are in custody and an investigation is continuing. Two other suspects remain at large, police said.
“Many victims do not come to the police so we cannot arrest the kidnappers,” Ung Depor said.
Cambodiana General Manager Jean-Pierre Kaspar said Monday he was not informed that members of the hotel’s security detail were arrested, and learned only through a report in a Khmer-language newspaper. “Police have not contacted us,” he said.
The kidnapping came just days after the abduction and murder of the teen-aged son of a senior Cambodiana employee.
Kaspar confirmed that the 14-year-old Cambodian national was taken about 10 days ago and held for ransom for several days before being found strangled.
Two sources said the victim was the son of the hotel’s security director, but that was not be confirmed.
Other prominent kidnappings in recent months have included Taiwanese businessman Kun Meanghong; the son of Agriculture Secretary of State Chhea Song; and an Australian telecommunications executive. All were eventually released.
Kidnapping figures are unknown, as police believe a large percentage go unreported. They have acknowledged it is a serious problem.
At a Phnom Penh Chamber of Commerce meeting last week, Chamber President Teng Bunma called on the government to combat the problem, which he said is threatening foreign investment. Business tycoon Mong Reththy told the meeting that he never leaves his home in the evenings for fear of being abducted.
Chamber treasurer Pung Kheav Se said Monday that the Taiwanese community was jolted following the kidnapping of Kun Meanghong, whom he said has returned to Taiwan with his wife.
“It’s had a very bad impact,” he said, noting that many people are increasing the number of their body guards.
With talk in Cambodia’s business community focusing more and more on the kidnapping problem, the American-Cambodian Business Council decided to hold a seminar on security.
“It’s a timely topic,” said council board member David Doran. “We’re aware that up until the election the security situation will remain tense.”
Four expatriate security experts are scheduled to address issues such as kidnapping and robbery at the seminar.
While some businessmen say the problem threatens foreign investment, Doran noted that the problem exists in many countries. (Additional reporting by Debra Boyce and Chris Decherd)