The scheduled trial of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s nephew Nhim Sophea, 22, who is charged with premeditated killing related to a car crash and slaying of innocent passersby in October, was postponed on Thursday, lawyers said.
Lawyer Dy Borima said he demanded the trial be postponed to allow him to include more witnesses in the defense of his high-profile client.
“I found more important witnesses and submitted them to the court. The witnesses were at the scene and will explain the whole incident,” Dy Borima said.
“This is a lawyer’s technique to defend his client. The new witness will help [the case],” he said.
Nhim Sophea was apprehended in November after remaining at large for several weeks after he and several friends were identified by police as the group involved in the deaths of three people and the serious injury of four others following the crash and shooting on Oct 27.
According to police, the group was traveling in a convoy of four vehicles after leaving celebrations at the home of a high-ranking official in Phnom Penh. One of the vehicles plowed into a parked truck, killing a 19-year-old man and leaving his brother with serious head injuries.
When onlookers gathered at the scene to observe the group pull the driver from his wrecked vehicle and remove the car’s registration plates, Nhim Sophea is alleged to have sprayed onlookers with bullets from an AK-47 rifle, killing an 18-year-old woman and a 40-year-old man.
Dy Borima said that the prime minister’s nephew remains behind bars at Prey Sar prison, adding that he did not know when a new trial date will be announced.
Richard Ngoun, the lawyer representing the three dead and injured, on Thursday claimed that the court’s decision to postpone the trial was a result of Hun Sen’s influence over the judicial system.
He also alleged that Nhim Sophea and a second suspect, Than Chamroeun, 23, were secretly released from prison several weeks ago.
“They just locked up the name. But the person is still free,” said Richard Ngoun, adding that the suspects have been spotted in Phnom Penh.
“We have enough evidence [to hold a trial]. It has been in the newspapers for the last two months,” he added.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court Prosecutor Ouk Savouth said he did not know why the trial was delayed. The presiding judge in the case is Tan Senarong, he added.
But Ouk Savouth said allegations that the suspects have been freed were “baseless.”
“To say such things is not just, because the suspect is being detained in jail,” he said.
Judge Tan Senarong could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
But Municipal Court Investigating Judge Hing Thirith said Thursday that ample evidence has been submitted to the court linking Nhim Sophea to the killings.
“That is why I passed this case to trial,” Hing Thirith said. “If there is not enough evidence, I would have released him a long time ago. He would not be detained in prison.”
Nhim Sophea’s mother, Hun Sinath, who is the sister of Hun Sen, told Radio Free Asia in an interview broadcast Wednesday that she believed her son was innocent.
Hun Sinath, deputy director of the Protocol Department at the Foreign Ministry, is married to Nhim Chantara, an undersecretary of state at the Foreign Ministry and former ambassador to Burma.
Hun Sinath was contacted by reporters on Thursday but switched off her telephone when asked to comment on the case.