After drunkenly killing a motorist with his car and leading police on a high-speed chase in Siem Reap province, a senior Forestry Administration official was released without charge on Tuesday because he had no “intention to murder” the victim, a court official said.
While “extremely drunk” at about 11 p.m. on Sunday, Yan Sideth, 48, chief of the Forestry Administration’s Svay Loeu division, rear-ended Chan Reaksmey, 41, a village security guard on patrol in Prasat Bakorng district, according to police.
But Mr. Sideth did not stop, and dragged the guard and the motorbike beneath his Lexus SUV for several meters before racing down National Road 6 for 13 km with police in pursuit.
Too drunk to answer questions on Monday, the suspect was sent to the Siem Reap Provincial Court on Tuesday, officials said.
Despite provincial traffic police suggesting charges of speeding, drunk driving, leaving the scene of an accident and reckless driving resulting in death, chief prosecutor Keut Sovannareth decided to release Mr. Sideth without charge on Tuesday evening, said court spokesman Ream Chanmony.
“He provided compensation to the plaintiff and…he was released,” he said, explaining that Chan Reaksmey’s family had withdrawn their court complaint after accepting about $5,000 for their loss.
“Normally, traffic accidents are unintentional, and no one has the intention to murder,” the spokesman added.
“The court did not lay any charges because according to the police report, the car driver did not do anything wrong,” he said, adding that Chan Reaksmey had been at fault for driving in front of a speeding car.
Pos Chantha, the deputy district police chief who led Sunday’s chase and arrested Mr. Sideth, countered the court’s claim.
“The information from us is the truth and we did not exaggerate the events that occurred,” he said. “He actually did flee the scene. It is the truth.”
Mr. Chanmony said the case would remain open as the prosecutor continued to investigate for “any irregularities,” but declined to elaborate. Mr. Sovannareth refused to comment on the case.
Tea Kimsuth, director of the Forestry Administration’s Siem Reap cantonment, which oversees the Svay Loeu division, defended Mr. Sideth’s drunken flight from police.
“He needed to find a safe place” to stop his car, he said. “The motorist was the one who was in the wrong.”
Mr. Kimsuth said that he tasked one of his officials with resolving the case, and that officials had also “helped him to pay the compensation.” He refused to say whether the funds had come from the administration’s budget.
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, called Mr. Sideth’s release a clear case of “impunity.”
“According to the law…he still deserves punishment because it was unintentional murder in a traffic accident,” he said.
“This is a bad example that will make people lose confidence in the court” and “make people not respect the law,” he added.
Ear Chariya, director of the Institute for Road Safety, said while Mr. Sideth’s release violated the law, it was not unprecedented.
“It is always difficult to bring justice to victims when the provokers are powerful government officials or rich people,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Janelle Retka)