Tycoon’s Ex-Partner Arrested Over Murder Plot

The former common-law wife of one of Cambodia’s richest men was arrested in Thailand on Monday over her alleged involvement in a plot to rape and murder the wife and daughter of Commerce Minister Sun Chanthol in 2010, Thai police confirmed Wednesday.

Lay Huong, 49, who is facing life in prison for an October 2012 conviction for “initiative in a rape and premeditated murder attempt,” according to Interpol, is being held at Thailand’s immigration department, Thai police spokesman Prawut Thawornsiri said.

A photo of Lay Huong posted to Interpol's website
A photo of Lay Huong posted to Interpol’s website

“Our police arrested her two days ago,” Lieutenant General Prawut said.

“We are waiting to push her back to the Cambodia border,” he added. “She is in the immigration office.”

Cambodia’s Interpol office, along with various Cambodian police officials, either said they could not confirm the arrest or had not received official information from Thai authorities.

Mok Chito, director of the Interior Ministry’s central judicial department, said there has been no official communication between Thai and Cambodian authorities regarding the arrest.

“The Thai side did not email any document to my office yet,” Lieutenant General Chito said. “I have been informed merely by phone.”

Major General Lim Sokha Raksmey, the acting director of Cambodia’s Interpol office, said that Ms. Huong was placed on Interpol’s list of most-wanted criminals in June.

Ms. Huong claims that she was married to and had a daughter with Khaou Phallaboth, a construction magnate and one of the country’s wealthiest businessmen. However, in a series of letters published in Khmer- and English-language newspapers earlier this year, Mr. Phallaboth said Ms. Huong was merely his mistress and denied having a child with her.

Ms. Huong’s conviction in relation to the high-profile case, involving numerous members of the Khaou family, which controls one of the country’s largest business empires—with holdings in the real estate, construction and agriculture sectors—was handed down by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in October 2012, according to Interpol.

Following a high-profile trial, Khaou Seng Chanda, 50, the wife of Khaou Chuly, the octogenarian patriarch of the family, was sentenced to 20 years in prison by the municipal court in February 2011. Both the Appeal Court and Supreme Court upheld the decision.

Despite a dearth of material evidence and reliance on witnesses who presented inconsistent testimonies, the courts also found three accomplices of Ms. Seng Chanda guilty, handing them 18- to 20-year jail terms.

According to the municipal court, Ms. Seng Chanda conspired with Chan Sokha, one of her maids at the time, to hire Neang Sinat, a maid who worked for Mr. Chanthol, to ensure access to the commerce minister’s Phnom Penh villa on the night of the planned murders in June 2010.

A fourth defendant, Sok Lak, was found guilty of plotting to break into the house and follow through with the rape and murder of his wife, Sun Sotha, and her then-9-year-old daughter.

On the night of the attempted murder, however, none of the suspects was seen at Mr. Chanthol’s villa, and no harm ever came to his wife or daughter. The only physical evidence of a planned crime was a window allegedly left ajar intentionally by one of the maids, but closed by Ms. Sotha, thwarting the attack.

The role of the recently arrested Ms. Huong in the plot has never been made clear, and Keo Mony, the investigating judge in the case, declined to comment when contacted Wednesday.

Mr. Chanthol, who was promoted to commerce minister following last year’s national election, applauded the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the guilty verdict in October 2012.

“Please let me say that Sun Chanthol and Sun Chanthol’s family do not want one cent from Oknha Khaou Chuly,” Mr. Chanthol said at the time, responding to claims that the case was fabricated.

But Ms. Seng Chanda, speaking on the same day, said her conviction for plotting to murder Ms. Sotha—who is also the daughter of Mr. Chuly—along with her daughter was baseless.

“They accused me of wanting to kill Sun Sotha because I am afraid that Sun Sotha will inherit my husband’s property,” Ms. Seng Chanda said outside the courtroom.

“But it is wrong because my husband has 12 children. If I kill one, there are still 11 remaining. So must I kill them all?”

Ms. Huong was not named in the initial case against Ms. Seng Chanda, but was among a number of relatives who were linked to the case in later criminal complaints.

In February and March this year, Ms. Huong and Mr. Phallaboth penned a series of lengthy public letters accusing each other of dishonesty and deception.

In his first letter, Mr. Phallaboth apologized for previously claiming that the accusations against Ms. Huong and Ms. Seng Chanda were fictitious.

“The speech in which I accused His Excellency Sun Chanthol and Her Excellency Sun Sotha of creating this case on purpose to accuse Seng Chanda and Lay Huong in order to occupy the property of Khaou Chuly’s family was a misunderstanding and is absolutely seriously wrong,” he wrote.

“I am very regretful that I defended Seng Chanda and Lay Huong, who colluded and had a plan to rape and kill my older sister Sun Sotha and my niece.”

In response, Ms. Huong, who says she lived with Mr. Phallaboth between 2004 and 2012 and cooperated with him on a number of business ventures, said that her ex-partner was lying.

“[Mr. Phallaboth] says I am a cruel person and accuses me of trying to destroy his family but it’s not true,” Ms. Huong wrote in March.

“He said I was his mistress and a greedy person who tried to rob his property and mastermind a murder,” she wrote. “It is not true, and I am very hurt.”

(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren, Phann Ana and Khy Sovuthy)

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