Tycoon, Ex-Wife Tried Over Rape-Murder Plot

Khaou Phallaboth, who co-founded one of the country’s largest construction firms, was tried on Tuesday along with his former common-law wife, Lay Huong, over ac­cusations that they plotted to rape and murder the wife and daughter of Commerce Minister Sun Chanthol in 2010.

Mr. Phallaboth was not present at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, and his lawyer, Lim Vanna, declined to comment on the case. Ms. Huong, who was arrested in Thailand in December last year and extradited to Cambodia, vigorously denied the charges against her: “initiative in a rape and premeditated murder attempt.”

Lay Huong leaves the Phnom Penh Municipal Court with her daughter on Tuesday.
Lay Huong leaves the Phnom Penh Municipal Court with her daughter on Tuesday.

It remains unclear when the charges were laid against Mr. Phallaboth. However, Presiding Judge San Sophat named him as a defendant as the trial began, and Chea Chanravy, a lawyer for Ms. Huong, confirmed that the tycoon was facing the same charges as his client.

“He was charged the same because it is the same offense,” he said.

Mr. Phallaboth remains the president of the Khaou Chuly Group, which is named after his father and has vast holdings in the construction and agriculture sectors, and launched Khaou Phallaboth Industries in 2008 with plans to invest in construction projects and cement factories, according to company websites.

Mr. Phallaboth and Ms. Huong, who have a daughter together, had a public feud early last year, taking out advertisements in local newspapers attacking each other. Mr. Phallaboth referred to Ms. Huong as his mistress, and said he had come to realize that she was guilty of plotting the rape-murder.

In a letter to Mr. Chanthol in November 2013, Mr. Phallaboth apologized for previous claims that the commerce minister had a hand in inventing the case in order to secure a greater share of the family fortune.

However, Ms. Huong continued to claim that the minister was involved in concocting the case during her trial on Tuesday.

After dismissing her latest bail request, Judge Sophat began questioning Ms. Huong over her alleged involvement in the plot, which she is accused of masterminding in collusion with Khaou Seng Chanda, Mr. Chuly’s wife, who is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence for the same charges.

As with the case against Ms. Seng Chanda, the central evidence presented against Ms. Huong on Tuesday was the testimony of two maids, Chan Sokha and Neang Sinat, who were handed jail terms of 18 years for their involvement.

Judge Sophat said the maids would appear as witnesses in the trial, along with Sok Lak, who was hired to carry out the attack, according to a decision that was upheld by the Supreme Court in October 2012, and also handed a lengthy sentence.

After reading out the charges against Ms. Huong, Judge Sophat asked her if she was guilty.

“Not at all, and also I know nothing at all,” Ms. Huong replied. “I have no reason to kill people.”

Ms. Huong said that a feud between her and the family of Mr. Chanthol and his wife, Sun Sotha—Mr. Phallaboth’s sister—had ultimately led to what she said were erroneous criminal charges.

“If you don’t like me, you don’t need to harm me and imprison me and separate me from my children and family while you are sleeping with air conditioning and drinking red wine,” she said.

Interrupting Ms. Huong, Judge Sophat said that witnesses in the case had testified that she, Mr. Phallaboth and Ms. Seng Chanda conspired to kill the commerce minis­- ter’s family.

“The witnesses in the case said you, your husband and Seng Chan­da, the wife of Khaou Chuly, had plans to kill the family of His Excellency Sun Chanthol,” the judge said. “Because the witnesses stated this, the plaintiff complained to the court.”

“Yes!” Mr. Huong replied. “The witness also said His Excellency Sun Chanthol planned to have her accuse Ms. Seng Chanda and Huong,” she said, referring to claims that Ms. Sokha, one of the maids, retracted in subsequent testimony.

After being told that the witnesses in the case had told the court that they saw Ms. Huong and Ms. Seng Chanda meeting on numerous occasions leading up to the night of the planned murders in June 2010, Ms. Huong asked why Mr. Chanthol had never been pressed on his involvement in the case.

“When Chan Sokha said he was the mastermind of the plan, why wasn’t his excellency called [to court]?” she said.

“I am an innocent person. They imprisoned me…and cannot find justice for me, only justice for His Excellency Sun Chanthol, her excellency [Ms. Sotha] and their children, who are living happily,” she said.

During final questioning from her co-defendant’s law­yer, Mr. Van­na, and Pek Vannak, an attorney for Mr. Chanthol, Ms. Huong la­mented being in prison—like Ms. Seng Chanda—while Mr. Phal­la­both and his immediate family remained free.

“Khaou Phallaboth went abroad,” she said. “The Khaous are free from detention while I am in prison alone and auntie Chanda is in prison and alone.”

Judge Sophat said the trial would resume on January 21, when the witnesses would give testimony.

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