One year on, Justice Far From Being Served in Triple Child Murder Case

Police said the two men entered the house in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district and tied up the two teenage girls and their 4-year-old cousin, before taping their mouths shut and using electricity to torture them.

One of the girls was forced to call their mother, Im Sovanphalla, 40, who came home immediately. Ms Sovanphalla, the wife of Royal Academy of Judicial Professionals Director Tep Darong, was beaten unconscious with a steel pipe when she arrived.

The two girls and their cousin were murdered-their skulls smashed brutally with the pipe.

Their murderers made away with about $26,000 in cash and Ms Sovanphalla’s Toyota 4WD.

The one-year anniversary of the cruel slaying of Mr Darong’s daughters and his nephew rolled past quietly three weeks ago.

To date, no one has been arrested over the incident and no convincing motive has even been given for the horrendous crime.

An arrest warrant was issued earlier this year for Neang Bunthoeun, 40, a close friend of Mr Darong and Ms Sovanphalla.

At the time of the slayings, Neang Bunthoeun was employed as the deputy director of the law enforcement department at the Ministry of Senate-National Assembly Relations and Inspection.

Despite police claims that they are continuing to work the case every day, Neang Bunthoeun has not been sighted for over a year and the high profile, triple-murder case remains inexplicably unsolved.

Meanwhile, a similar-yet-unrelated incident in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district two weeks ago returned a very different result, when police in far-flung Ratanakkiri province apprehended two suspects less than 24 hours after the crime took place.

Chab Hieng, a 55-year-old Australian-Cambodian woman, was nearly strangled to death with rope from a hammock and then robbed of about $20,000 worth of cash and jewelry when two men allegedly attempted to kill and rob her on May 27.

Mok Hong, police chief of Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district, said last week that police were able to quickly arrest the two suspects based on information revealed by Ms Hieng after she regained consciousness in Preah Kossamak hospital. Mr Hong said Ms Hieng identified her nephew Ros Hongse, 29 and Oeurn Bunchheng, 26, as her attackers.

“The witness told us that the suspects have a plan to visit Ratanakkiri province,” Mr Hong said. “And when we checked about their hiding location we found out that they were really there and we arrested them immediately.”

The two suspects were arrested just before they arrived in Ratanakkiri province’s Banlung city a little less than 24 hours later. Both appeared at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court last Monday, after which the investigating judge placed them in provisional detention at the capital’s Prey Sar prison.

They face up to 20 years in prison, if found guilty of their alleged crimes.

But for Mr Darong’s late family members, justice is far from being served.

Shortly before the killings, Mr Darong’s Royal Academy of Judicial Professionals was the subject of a Voice of America news report alleging corrupt practices. At a news conference a few days later, Mr Darong denied the allegations aired in the VOA report which centered on unnamed students’ claims that they had to pay as much as $20,000 to $30,000 just to be eligible to become a judge after graduating from the academy.

Mr Darong has repeatedly declined to be interviewed about the killing of his daughters and nephew. His wife Ms Sovannphalla could not be reached for comment for this story.

Despite swirling speculation about the motive, police say they are still unsure as to why the three innocent children were tied up, tortured, then beaten to death.

They say Neang Bunthoeun, their only suspect and the man who Mr Darong’s late daughters called “Papa,” is hiding somewhere in the north-western provinces of Cambodia. His accomplice has never been identified. Police also say they have been following the trail of communication between the suspect and his relatives in Phnom Penh, but add that they still have no clues about his exact whereabouts.

“We are cooperating with Phnom Penh police including municipal and provincial authorities regarding this case,” Police Major General Inn Bora, director of Interior Ministry’s penal police department, said last week.

Maj Gen Bora added that police had not forgotten to pursue Neang Bunthoeun, despite having no clues as to his whereabouts.

“We still follow it because this is a criminal case. If we learn about [his location] we will arrest him soon,” he said.

According to police officers, Neang Bunthoeun’s trail went cold within hours of the murders in Tuol Kok.

They say less than an hour after the incident, the suspect parked Ms Sovanphalla’s stolen vehicle near the municipal military police headquarters in the capital’s Meanchey district, before getting into a Toyota Land Cruiser SUV that officials later discovered in Kompong Cham province.

Police Brigadier General Nuon Samin, Kompong Chan provincial police chief, said last week that his officers had found nothing inside the suspect’s car when it was found.

Brig Gen Samin said that Neang Bunthoeun had ties to Kompong Cham as he had previously worked as a financial officer for Boeng Ket rubber plantation in Stung Trang district.

He added that provincial police had obtained the arrest warrant for Neang Bunthoeun, but said he believed that the suspect has never returned to the area.

“He had left the car here and ran away,” Brig Gen Samin said. “The latest information circulated is that he could be hiding in Siem Reap or Preah Vihear provinces.”

Ou Em, bureau chief of Siem Reap penal police, said Thursday that he was not sure whether the arrest warrant for Neang Bunthoeun had been sent to his office and was unaware of any information indicating that the child murder suspect was hiding in Siem Reap.

Keo Chamroeun, deputy police chief of Preah Vihear province, said that he was unaware of the case and referred questions to police in Phnom Penh where the crime was committed.

 

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