One Month Later, No Word on Kem Ley Murder Probe

A month after popular political commentator Kem Ley was gunned down inside a Phnom Penh convenience store, authorities are saying little about what—if any—progress they have made in cracking the murder case.

The man arrested shortly after the July 10 murder has confessed to the crime and claims he was taking revenge over a $3,000 loan Kem Ley had refused to pay back. But the families of both men say the two did not even know each other, fueling public suspicion that the shooting was a political assassination.

Mourners pay their respects to Kem Ley at Phnom Penh's Wat Chas pagoda earlier this month. (Pring Samrang/Reuters)
Mourners pay their respects to Kem Ley at Phnom Penh’s Wat Chas pagoda earlier this month. (Pring Samrang/Reuters)

The suspect—who has identified himself as Chuop Samlap, or “Meet Kill”—was charged with premeditated murder and illegal weapons possession on July 13. Government officials have since said they believe someone else ordered the hit but won’t say more.

“I don’t have anything new. If you have something new, please tell me,” Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said on Tuesday. “There is someone behind it, but we have not found them.”

On the same day the Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged the suspected shooter, whose real name is Oeuth Ang, it also charged a second, unnamed suspect with selling him the murder weapon, a Glock pistol.

General Sopheak on Tuesday said he did not even know there was a second suspect.

“Thank you for informing me about this. You are the first to tell me,” he said with a laugh.

Chin Malin, a spokesman for the Justice Ministry, said authorities had not found proof of the alleged debt, either.

“We have not made a conclusion about the money, but it is one clue in the investigation,” he said.

National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith and Seng Leang, the judge investigating the case, could not be reached on Tuesday.

Municipal court director Taing Sunlay said witnesses had been questioned in the case and referred further questions to court spokesman Ly Sophanna, who declined to comment.

Mr. Malin acknowledged that members of the public were frustrated with the pace of the investigation, but urged patience.

“The police are working very hard,” he said. “This case is a little bit complicated, so we need time. People have demanded a quick response, but it is not yet time for the police to reveal everything they know about the investigation.”

But even the appearance of slow progress is adding to suspicions that the investigation is not sincere, said Voice of Democracy director Pa Nguon Teang, whose broadcasts often featured Kem Ley as a guest.

“Everyone suspects the work of the police; they wonder why it takes so long,” he said. “According to the experience of Cambodia, when a high-profile [murder] case happens like this, the people believe there has never been a proper investigation, and this seems to be a similar experience.”

Mr. Nguon Teang, who also heads the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, said he expected the latest investigation to go the way of those that followed the murders of other prominent government critics, which have either remained open or ended with conclusions few believe.

But a repeat could cost the government dearly in the next election, after a 2013 poll that nearly swept it from power, Mr. Nguon Teang said.

“If the government doesn’t [do] anything proper to investigate this case…it will [have] the huge impact on the government’s credibility,” he said.

Prime Minister Hun Sun appears to be keenly aware of the risks. He swiftly denied any government involvement in the murder, arguing that the ruling party had the most to lose from the public blowback.

He has also been quick to punish anyone calling him a liar.

Last week, he sued opposition leader Sam Rainsy and opposition Senator Thak Lany for saying that the government orchestrated Kem Ley’s murder, accusing them of defamation and incitement.

Mr. Rainsy has stood by his words. The senator claims the audio track of the video clip used to sue her had been edited.

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