With a police officer suspected of shooting a 28-year-old woman dead at close range in Svay Rieng province last week still at large, the victim’s family said Monday that police officials had visited them to negotiate $2,800 in compensation in the hope of having no legal action taken against the officer.
Nuch Pheaktra, a police officer in Chantrea district’s Mesa Thngak commune, allegedly shot Roth Samak in the chest with an AK-47 assault rifle on the night of April 2 after an altercation between two groups at a wedding party.
After the shooting took place, the officer managed to escape, despite the presence of another unidentified police official. Police on Monday said they have no leads on the whereabouts of the suspect.
Roth Samak’s mother, Keut Saman, 50, said that members of Mr. Pheaktra’s family and the district police chief, So Sithorn, had approached her the day after the shooting with a compensation offer.
“District police officials, including the district police chief, lobbied and negotiated with me to pay [nearly] $3,000 in compensation so that we would drop the complaint against the suspect,” she said.
After days of negotiating, Ms. Saman said that she agreed to the compensation yesterday in order to avoid a lengthy dispute. “I agreed to receive the compensation and I agree not to file a complaint against the suspect,” she said.
Roth Samak left behind two daughters aged 2 and 7 and her husband, Soeu Sokong, 35. Mr. Sokong said that although his family had accepted the compensation payment—which he said was eventually settled at $2,800—he did not feel justice had yet been done.
“I think it is not justice for my wife that they just pay this money, but we didn’t know what to do,” he said. “What can we do? We’re afraid if we filed a complaint, we could not win because we are a poor family.”
By law, a criminal act such as murder must be investigated and prosecuted regardless of whether a complaint is filed. In reality, Cambodian police and courts often fail to investigate cases after compensation has been agreed, meaning perpetrators escape punishment.
“Payment of compensation should only be used in a civil case. Compensation should not be used to terminate a criminal case,” said Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, an organization that provides legal aid to the poor and vulnerable. “Even though the victim did not file a complaint against the suspect, it is the duty of the state to investigate and find out what exactly happened.”
Mr. Sithorn, the district police chief, declined to comment on his part in the compensation deal. But Phin Vandy, district penal police chief, said that the compensation should mark the closing of the case.
“If both parties agree with each other, we will not investigate this case,” he said.
Although district police said the case would likely be closed, a provincial police official said the compensation should not replace efforts to arrest the suspect.
“Paying compensation is just to help with the victim’s funeral,” said Svay Rieng provincial police chief Koeng Khorn.
Both Mr. Khorn and Mr. Sithorn, however, declined to say whether they had any information about the whereabouts of Mr. Pheaktra.
Police have yet to give a full account of the shooting itself, but according to the victim’s mother, Ms. Saman, who witnessed the death, Mr. Pheaktra had become angered by jeering revelers before he fired point blank at her daughter.
Nouth Bophinnaroath, provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, said his investigation had confirmed the mother’s version of events.
“The victim was shot dead intentionally,” he said. “Even though the victim’s family does not file a complaint, we will still prepare a document on our monitoring of this case for the provincial prosecutor.”
Svay Rieng prosecutor Hing Bunchea said the investigation was ongoing. “For this case, I ordered police to continue to investigate and police are looking to arrest the suspect,” he said.