tram kak district, Takeo province – Families of the privileged young men implicated in the
Oct 27 car crash and shooting of innocent bystanders, have disbursed “compensation” to at least some of their victims—money that has bought the withdrawal of court complaints, relatives of victims said Tuesday.
The relatives also said that Phnom Penh Municipal Court clerks who oversaw the payout at the court house told them that there would now be no further opportunity for justice.
Lawyers involved in the case said Wednesday that the collision and the double slaying, for which Prime Minister Hun Sen’s nephew, Nhim Sophea, will stand trial, are being treated as two separate cases.
Attorney Phat Sophal said his client Seng Sovann was responsible for the crash. But his family has paid three victims and will likely pay another, the lawyer said.
Phat Sophal also said he did not know if his young client was in jail or what charges were ever issued against him.
In Takeo province Long Sim, a family member of three victims of the incident, on Tuesday presented a document that named him as the victims’ representative. He told reporters he had thumbprinted three copies of the paper, dated Jan 2.
It read, “Tong Seng, father of Seng Sovann, gave me 7.5 million riel [$1,875].”
“I ask to withdraw my complaints and stop demanding compensation.”
Long Sim said the sum consisted of contributions from the well-heeled families of three different suspects in the crash shooting.
But Long Sim and his daughter, Long Ny, said that two court clerks, a man and a woman whose names they did not know, took 20 percent of the compensation—it was an informal tax on an amount of compensation far less than they had hoped for.
Long Sim lost his son, Long Mao, in the collision.
Long Ny’s husband, Sun Lai, was knocked into a 16-day coma, from which he is making a remarkable recovery. Sun Lai’s brother, Koal Chamroeun, suffered only scrapes down his back.
“It’s not enough for me to pay for the medical treatment,” said Long Ny, whose husband suffered severe head wounds.
“The father told me not to ask for a lot of money because there are a lot of other criminals responsible,” she said.
She said she wanted to seek payment from the other suspects’ families but did not know who they were.
Long Sim said he, too, felt powerless.
“On the day I met the criminals’ parents, they used threatening words, like, ‘If you demand a lot of money for compensation, you must be able to fly away,’” he said.
The accident occurred when a Toyota Corona slammed into a coconut truck that was being unloaded near Olympic Stadium between 10:30 pm and 11 pm.
Afterward, three vehicles pulled up to the accident and their occupants removed the Toyota’s license plate and its rattled driver, who was reportedly saved by an airbag. One them allegedly produced an AK-47 from his vehicle and threatened bystanders before firing on them, witnesses said.
A man and woman were shot and killed as they drove past the accident.
Penal Police Chief Reach Sokhun said the next day that the convoy had been speeding from a birthday party at the Chamkar Mon district villa of an unnamed high-ranking official.
“They were a little drunk,” he added.
Presiding Judge Tan Senarong has declined on numerous occasions to discuss the case, saying it is still under investigation.
But on Wednesday Tan Senarong revealed there are now only two suspects in the crime, for which police initially issued five arrest warrants. He would not name the charges against them but said the men are Nhim Sophea and Sam Doeun.
The case has been murky, due to the authorities’ unwillingness to speak and the shifting details in the case.
Suspect Sam Doeun was not named as a suspect until Nhim Sophea appeared briefly in court on Jan 14.
After adjourning the trial for further investigation, Tan Senarong told reporters that Sam Doeun was the shooter and Nhim Sophea had only tried to wrest the AK-47 from his friend’s hands.
Tan Senarong also said on Jan 14 that Nhim Sophea was charged with involuntary manslaughter, which carries a one- to three-year prison sentence.
Investigating Judge Hing Thirith said in November that Nhim Sophea had been charged with traffic violations and premeditated killing, which carries the weightier punishment of eight to 15 years.
Police involved in the investigation have repeatedly named Nhim Sophea as the shooter. And were still sticking to their earlier statements on Wednesday.
“There are only two criminals—Nhim Sophea and Seng Sovann,” Reach Sokhon, who headed the police investigation, said Wednesday.
“Seng Sovann is the one that drove the car, and Nhim Sophea is the criminal that shot the victims,” he said.
Little is known about the two people who died in the indiscriminate gunfire that night. But 24-year-old crash victim Sun Lai has regained consciousness and his memory. He walked around his family’s Takeo province farm on Tuesday, laughing and smiling.
“I feel happy because I can continue my life,” he said Tuesday. “I can continue my second life.”
After his family had taken him home to die in November, the rights group Licadho and several Funcinpec officials helped his family return him to Phnom Penh for medical treatment.
But doctors were afraid to predict a recovery.
Now, he says his head still hurts and his legs sometimes go numb, but he hopes to be able to help support his family again.
He said the tragedy of Oct 27 is history.
Prospects of further legal proceedings are unknown to Sun Lai and his brother, despite the impact that one night had on their lives and the three people who died.