Three Jailed, One Freed in Boat Hijacking and Robbery Case Sentenced 5-10 Year Imprisonment, 1 Freed

Three of eight suspects in the recent hijacking and robbery of a passenger boat full of tourists formally began serving prison sentences Thursday following convictions in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

However, four other men convicted in absentia Thursday remain at large and the court freed one 21-year-old suspect, Chrieng Seiha, who had been arrested shortly after the incident.

The hijacking occured in late March on the Tonle Sap as the boat traveled from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, home of the temples of Angkor. Men armed with AK-47s seized the vessel operated by the Chann Na Company and led it, and the more than 90 passengers, to land in Kompong Chhnang province and escaped.

According to the police, witnesses and victims, the gunmen gagged the passengers—half of whom were foreigners—threatened them, and took money, jewelry and mobile phones. The government estimated the value of stolen items could be as high as $100,000. No one was killed or seriously injured. The incident embarrassed government officials who have been working to improve the nation’s image to attract more tourists.

Three of the four suspects arrested in late March in the capital’s northern district of Russei Keo district were brought to court, found guilty and sentenced. Judge On Bunna sentenced Prach Kunthol, 28,  to seven years in prison; Chorn Phal, 21, got six years; and Koy Saran, 17, was ordered to be held for five years.

Of those suspects not yet arrested but sentenced Thursday,  25-year-old Em Sopheaktra got 10 years in prison, the maximum punishment defined in the Untac criminal law. The court said he was the crime’s mastermind. Chhen Prosar and Phon Bora, both 24-year-old soldiers, and Sam Chamroeun, 19, each got sentenced to eight years in prison, according to Chin Chiva.

Chin Chiva said authorities would continue to look for them. “The police have the arrest warrants already.”

Trial Judge On Bunna said on Friday the court decided to drop charges against Chreing Seiha because he was not present on the boat during the hijacking and the court “didn’t find enough evidence” to find him guilty.

The case’s prosecutor said information about the incident was carefully considered and that while Chreing Seiha knew some suspects, he was not involved in the crime. “We have carefully decided sentences according to their involvement in the hijacking,” Chin Chiva said Friday.

However, military police officials involved in the investigation of the case were not pleased that Chreing Seiha was set free.

“In fact, that man is involved in the hijacking of the boat,” said a top military police officer, who requested anonymity.

The officer said the case is an example of the failure of the legal system, and implied that money may have influenced the court’s decision.

“As you know, law and order is still weak in Cambodia. Lawyers can be hired by wealthy people and can influence the courts.”

A different military police official said Thursday he was disappointed one of the suspects was released, but not surprised. He claimed Chrieng Seiha’s father is an influential district official in Kompong Cham province.

Chin Chiva denied anything but the truth influenced the court’s decision, and said he did not have information about the suspect’s family.

“We don’t know about it. We didn’t investigate their family background,” Chin Chiva said.

People in the tourism business, who were shocked by the first hijacking targeting tourists, welcomed the prompt legal proceeding and verdict.

“It is good for the country’s image that the police take good care of it,” said Rith Chanthr, general manager for Apsara Tours.

So Mara, director general for the Tourism Ministry, said the convictions reflect government efforts to improve security for tourists.

Chann Na, owner of the boat company, said his business has not been impacted negatively. “We still keep good business.”




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