Police said Monday they have concluded their investigation into a fire that ripped through a Siem Reap City nightclub last month, killing four Cambodians and an Australian, and decided against making any arrests despite likely safety violations.
The November 18 blaze gutted the popular Hip Hop Restaurant & Discotheque and led to the death of Prum Phiron and Soeun Savon, both 31; Cheng Savien, 33; Chea Sreiny, 36; and Australian Tom Ricketson, 32.
Siem Reap provincial police chief Sort Nordy said police questioned the club’s owners and staff and determined the fire was an accident and that no arrests should be made.
“We did not arrest anyone because it was an electrical short circuit and nobody wanted it to happen,” Brigadier General Nordy said. “However, the club’s owner must be responsible and give the victims’ families compensation.”
Brig. Gen. Nordy added that the police report on the case has been sent to the provincial court.
Samrith Sokhon, the deputy provincial prosecutor, said the court had not yet decided whether anyone would be arrested over the fire.
“We still have not decided if the club’s owner will be prosecuted because the case occurred due to an electrical short circuit,” he said.
The owners of the club, Lee Meng Srin and his younger brother Lee Kong Vong, also own the nearby Hip Hop Classic Club and the popular Temple Club in Siem Reap City.
Mai Khim, who managed both Hip Hop clubs, said the owners have paid between $3,000 and $4,000 in compensation to each of the families of the victims.
“We never wanted this to happen,” he said. “We lost nearly $1 million from the damage caused by the fire and paying compensation.”
Thorng Sokun, the provincial deputy police chief who led the investigation, confirmed that police have closed the probe and did not intend to make any arrests.
“Following the investigation, our police have concluded that it is not manslaughter,” Mr. Sokun said. “Officials from Electricite du Cambodge and fire experts have said the cause of the fire was due to an electrical short circuit.”
Mr. Sokun said he did not know whether the building had met the necessary safety codes, however, and had not made any effort to find out.
“We cannot say if the building met the standards or not because we are not experts,” he said. “Next time we will cooperate with the construction experts to check on this problem.”
On the day of the fire, Siem Reap City police chief Tith Narong said the club had no windows and only one exit, hindering escape, and that there were too many electrical wires on the ceiling, where the fire began. He said the owners were ordered to bring the facility in line with the appropriate standards.
“But they do not listen because they have money,” he said at the time. “If they have money, they can do anything.”
Duong Sokha, the provincial penal police chief, said the club’s owners were still in the process of negotiating compensation with some of the victims’ families and that police would reopen the investigation if ordered to do so by the court.
“The evidence is still in the court’s hands, so if the provincial court wants us to review the case, we will do it,” he said.
Neither the club owners—Mr. Meng Srin and Mr. Kong Vong—nor the families of the victims could be reached for comment.
One of the owner’s other clubs, Hip Hop Classic, sits about 1 meter from the site of the fire and was closed during the police investigation, but reopened on Saturday, said Mr. Khim, the manager.
“Since Saturday we have reopened the other club and have put a 50 to 70 percent discount on drinks in order to attract more customers,” he said.
Mr. Khim said Hip Hop Classic was only reopened after the owners hired electricians to check it for bad wiring.
“We tested and inspected to make sure that everything was fine,” he said, adding that his bosses did not have plans to reopen the damaged club.
“We are leaving it as it is.”
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