Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng has sent a team of high-ranking Interior Ministry officials to investigate the recent spike in violent crimes involving foreigners in Sihanoukville, the ministry’s spokesman said Thursday.
General Khieu Sopheak was guarded when asked about details of the mission, but said national-level officials would keep the increasingly volatile situation in the seaside city under control.
“I can confirm that Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng assigned a team to go and investigate, but apart from that, let them do their job and wait until they complete their report,” he said.
“The situation is not out of control.”
A Mercedes-Benz coupe that caught fire in the early hours of Tuesday morning—shortly after the driver, Turkish national Bora Ozturk, stepped out of the vehicle—was just the latest incident in a series of violent acts involving Russian, Turkish and Israeli expatriates in Sihanoukville.
The Mercedes fire came four days after National Police commissioner Neth Saveoun warned foreigners acting unlawfully in Sihanoukville that they would not escape the law. “Cambodia does not allow mafia foreigners to come to commit illegal offenses on Cambodian land,” he said during a speech at the Interior Ministry on March 13.
General Savoeun’s reminder came just hours after the engine bay of a late-model Range Rover exploded as the car sat parked outside the home of well-connected Russian businessman Nikolai Doroshenko. Mr. Doroshenko’s son Ostap blamed the blast on his father’s rival, fugitive developer Sergei Polonsky, who denied any involvement.
In February, Turkish national Mehmet Tekoglu was targeted in a drive-by shooting the day after he allegedly stabbed an Israeli man. Earlier last month, two Russians were arrested after a brawl at a casino that started when one side demanded profits from the company selling tickets for the Kazantip music festival—canceled by Cambodian authorities on the eve of its scheduled start—in which a Moldovan man was stabbed.
One man implicated in the fight, Oleg Tikhanov, is believed to have fled Cambodia after it was revealed that he was on Interpol’s most-wanted list, sought by Russian authorities on charges of possessing weapons and explosives as part of a criminal syndicate.
Contacted Thursday, Major General Uk Heisela, chief of investigations at the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, said increasing crime on the coast had forced Phnom Penh to take action to “strengthen security [amid] the chaos caused by foreigners living in Preah Sihanouk province.”
“After many cases involving foreigners, the general department of immigration created a commission led by His Excellency Nov Leakhena to monitor those cases,” Maj. Gen. Heisela said, adding that Dy Vichea, chief of the ministry’s central security department, was part of the delegation, along with officials from the anti-terrorism department.
Lieutenant General Leakhena, deputy director-general of the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, and Lieutenant General Vichea, a son-in-law of Prime Minister Hun Sen, could not be reached Thursday.
However, Im Sovann, deputy chief of Bei commune, where the Mercedes caught fire, confirmed that a first round of meetings Thursday was attended by Lt. Gen. Leakhena, Lt. Gen. Vichea, provincial police chief Seang Kosal, his deputy Kao Ratana, and city police chief Phul Phorsda.
“Most cases recently have involved foreigners,” Mr. Sovann said, “so they held the meeting to strengthen the management of foreigners.”
As for the two damaged cars, Brigadier General Kosal, the provincial police chief, said he had requested security-camera footage of the Range Rover explosion from the elder Doroshenko, but was told that the cameras that would have captured the incident had not been operational at the time. How the Mercedes caught fire, he said, was still a mystery.
Pierre Kann, the Cambodian owner of the Mercedes, who is working with Mr. Polonsky to build an “Underwater War Museum” in the Gulf of Thailand, said on Tuesday that he would not file a complaint with police about the apparent attack on his car, as a criminal investigation would take time and cost him money.
“I prefer to say it’s an electrical fire, get my car back and stop the case,” he said at the time.
As he waited to speak to officers at the Sihanoukville police station Thursday, Mr. Kann said he had no intention of changing his mind.
“I recently replaced the electrics in my car and the [mechanic] made a mistake,” he said.
“There is no clue that someone burned the car, so I will make that report with police.”