Lawyer: Belgian Murder Suspect Did Not Flee

The French lawyer for a Belgian man released in April from Kampot Provincial Prison has disputed authorities’ version of events, saying that his client, who was suspected in the murder of a French woman last year, was permitted to return to his country and that the investigation into him has been completed.

Police and court officials said this week that 41-year-old Olivier van den Bogaert—the only suspect in the 2013 murder of French tourist Ophelie Begnis—had been released on bail and that the court still had his passport.

Benoit Lavange, Mr. van den Bogaert’s Paris-based lawyer, said on Thursday night that authorities in Phnom Penh and Kampot had approved Mr. van den Bogaert’s departure.

“In April, the Appeal Court agreed with the [Kampot] investigating judge’s decision that Olivier should be released from prison due to a lack of evidence,” Mr. Lavange said.

“After he was released, he requested to leave the country, so the tribunal in Kampot had a hearing and authorized him to fly home.”

The investigating judge in charge of the case in Kampot, Hang Sokun Vathana, said on Thursday that the court still had Mr. van den Bogaert’s passport and that he could not comment on what he called a “secret investigation.”

Contacted Friday, Judge Sokun Vathana rebuked Mr. Lavange’s account of events, saying that while a suspect in Mr. van den Bogaert’s position had the right to request leave to return to their home country, he knew of no such request in this case.

Judge Sokun Vathana also insisted that Mr. van den Bogaert was still under investigation and that he had only been released on bail, though he did not know how much surety had been posted.

Em Bo, director of the Kampot Provincial Prison, confirmed the judge’s account.

“Olivier left the prison on April 10. He was released on bail and will wait until the court summons him [to appear],” Mr. Bo said.

Mr. Lavange, the French lawyer, insisted that his client left the country believing that he had been cleared in the murder case of Ophelie Begnis.

“Being released on bail involves handing over money. No money was handed over,” Mr. Lavange said.

He said that the court may still have possession of Mr. van den Bogaert’s passport, but that it was an out of date document that had been replaced.

“The passport expired while he was in prison, so the Belgian authorities made him a new one,” he said.

Thierry Dalimier, honorary consul at the Belgian Consulate, declined to comment because the case is still open.

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