Prosecutor Disputes Verdict in Murder-Kidnapping Case

In a rare show of discord inside the courts, a prosecutor at the Kandal Provincial Court on Tuesday lodged an appeal against verdicts handed down to two men involved in a kidnapping and murder.

Prosecutor Lim Sokuntha recommended charges of premeditated murder for three men implicated in the July 2014 abduction and killing of Heng Piseth, the 25-year-old son of a couple who operated a successful bakery chain, following a monthslong investigation.

However, in delivering a verdict Monday, Presiding Judge Hok Vanthina, who is also director of the provincial court, downgraded charges for two of the suspects—In Raksmey, 26, and Seng Sok, 25—to illegal weapons possession and failure to report a crime to authorities, sentencing them each to a year in prison, while the heavier charge stuck to Seng Chanthy, 25, who was sentenced to life.

“I do not accept this decision to change the charges against the accused. I have already appealed the decision,” Mr. Sokuntha said by telephone after the verdict was announced.

“Through our investigation, we found that the three were [all] involved and together transported the victim by car” after the kidnapping, he said, adding that Mr. Chanthy had testified that the three were equally responsible.

Heng Piseth’s body was found by police in a flooded quarry in Kompong Speu province about a week after he disappeared. His family reported that they had paid his abductors $100,000 after receiving a demand for $500,000 for his safe return.

Contacted Tuesday, Chao Vuthy, the deputy chief of the Kandal’s serious crimes bureau who led the investigation into the kidnapping and murder, also said he was bewildered by the downgraded charges.

“I do not understand why the court changed the charges against them. Following our investigation, it was established that Mr. Seng Sok is also a killer,” he said, adding that Mr. Raksmey was at least complicit in the murder.

Mr. Vuthy also said police were still seeking a fourth suspect, Voet Sotheara, who he described as the “mastermind” of the plot to extort the family behind the Heng Cheng bakery chain.

Long Lun, a lawyer for Mr. Chanthy, said Tuesday that confessions had been extracted from his client by torture.

Nach Try, a lawyer for Mr. Sok, said that following numerous delays in the case, he did not bother to attend the sentencing on Monday and was unaware of the verdict.

Judge Vanthina could not be reached for comment.

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