North Korean Doctors’ Wives Requested No Autopsy

A medical expert at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court who determined that simultaneous heart attacks killed two North Korean doctors in Tuol Kok district last week based his conclusion entirely on testimony from their widows, who requested that no autopsies or blood tests be conducted, according to officials.

An Hyon Chang, 56, and Ri Muhn Chol, 50, died within seconds of each other shortly before midnight on Friday at the small clinic in Boeng Kak II commune where they worked and lived with their wives, who are also doctors, according to deputy commune police chief Kim Chantho.

The North Korean medical clinic on Street 594 in Phnom Penh. (Jens Welding Ollgaard/The Cambodia Daily)
The North Korean medical clinic on Street 594 in Phnom Penh. (Jens Welding Ollgaard/The Cambodia Daily)

Mr. Chantho said both men died of heart attacks after their wives injected them with a homemade health serum to ease pain and fevers they developed following two days of heavy drinking, citing the opinion of the court doctor, Norng Sovannaroth.

He said the wives did not report their husbands’ deaths until midday on Saturday, about 12 hours after they passed away.

The police official said he also believed the North Korean men died of heart attacks, despite the alleged alcohol consumption and mystery serum, not to mention scratches found on the victims’ chests.

“The victims died because of their weak health, and they had heart attacks as well,” he said on Tuesday.

“We do not know why the victims had claw marks on their chests and their stomachs,” he added. “We do not know what kind of injection they ordered their wives to inject them with.”

Aside from consulting the court doctor, Mr. Chantho said, commune police handled the investigation from start to finish, and closed the case over the weekend.

Dr. Sovannaroth, the court doctor, said in an interview on Wednesday that the widows—Sim Yong Hye, 55, and Jaing Hye Ryon, 46—had told him that the injections comprised a mixture of vitamins and fluids similar to that commonly administered intravenously throughout Cambodia for dehydration, exhaustion and a variety of more serious ailments.

“All of them are doctors and they should have gone to hospital, but they decided not to because they are doctors,” he said. “They thought they could treat themselves.”

Dr. Sovannaroth said his conclusion that the men died of simultaneous heart attacks was based entirely on what the women had told him and that he did not have the medical equipment to independently verify their claims.

“That’s all the wives reported to me. In Cambodia, there is no equipment to do autopsies like in other countries,” he said.

Dr. Sim and Dr. Jaing, the widows, could not be reached this week, and the clinic has been shuttered since the deaths.

In defense of the decision to close the case, Mr. Chantho opened a drawer in his desk at the commune police station on Tuesday and produced a document signed and thumbprinted by the widows requesting that authorities cease investigating the case.

The letter—handwritten in Khmer, signed by Dr. Sim and Dr. Jaing, and endorsed by a North Korean Embassy official—asks police to refrain from performing any type of autopsy and affirms that the women will not pursue legal action.

“We are requesting to the authorities, with the official of the Korean Embassy as the witness…[that] they recognize our husbands died of heart attacks,” reads the letter, dated Saturday.

“There is no need to conduct an operation to examine the body and no need for blood examination,” it continues. “We request to have the corpse for a traditional funeral service that involves cremation.”

Interviewed this week, neighbors described the North Korean couples—who arrived in Cambodia in March last year, according to the letter—as affable. They said the clinic was only visited by Korean patients.

“They were very kind and very friendly,” Lim Raksmey, a 19yearold university student whose family lives next door to the clinic, said on Tuesday, adding that she heard a shout from inside the building late Friday night.

“I heard a cry of pain at about midnight, but I did not know they had died,” she said, adding that the deaths had caused residents to speculate about possible causes.

“Everyone has been wondering after this accident, why did they die? If it was a heart attack, why did two people die at the same time?”

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