A senior municipal police official on Monday defended his officers’ decision to wait for hours for permission from the powerful owner of a Phnom Penh nightclub to investigate a shooting in the club on Friday, out of “respect.”
It took almost three hours for police to gain access to a crime scene at the Rock Entertainment Center after 28-year-old DJ Mot Makara was shot twice at around 6:20 a.m. on Friday morning, according to Phnom Penh deputy police chief Heang Thareth.
The nightclub is owned by Kith Thieng, a powerful businessman in his own right and the brother of Royal Group chairman Kith Meng, one of the country’s wealthiest men.
Mr. Thareth said on Monday that after arriving at the club, his officers had complied with a request from the nightclub’s owner to stay away from the crime scene.
“We couldn’t gain access into the nightclub to investigate as soon as police knew the crime happened because the night club manager would not allow it,” he said, adding that officers finally gained access at 9 p.m.
“The nightclub has an owner so if they do not allow us to get inside then we need to respect that and wait until the owner approves,” he said, conceding that the situation meant that police had been “very late” to investigate the scene.
Khiet Thieng initially denied knowledge of the incident when contacted on Monday.
“Nothing happened,” he said, referring questions to police after being given details of the altercation.
Asked whether officials had been barred from entering the premises, Mr. Thieng would not comment directly but said it was possible the altercation had happened outside the nightclub.
“Well that guy chased him,” he said. “Maybe the children were fighting outside.”
The suspect—who is known to police but has not been named—fled the scene and remains at large, Mr. Thareth said.
“We are searching to arrest the suspect, but we need all levels of police in Phnom Penh and throughout the country to cooperate to arrest the suspect,” he said.
Mr. Makara is currently being treated in the Khmer-Soviet hospital for gunshot wounds to his chest and shoulder and is expected to make a full recovery, he added.
After gaining entry to the club, police found one bullet casing, one bullet embedded in the wall and two unused bullets on the floor, Mr. Thareth said, declining to say whether the investigation had been compromised by the delay.
Additional reporting by Taylor O’Connell