Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday charged former Takeo provincial governor Lay Vannak and former deputy provincial police chief Lay Narith with murder over the killing of the governor’s mistress, whose death was covered up as a suicide.
Ly Sophanna, spokesman for the court, said Mr Vannak and his older brother Mr Narith were charged with murder over the killing of Chev Sovathana, whose body was found by her maid hanging dead in her rental room in Daun Keo city on January 26.
Mr Sophanna added that two out of four other suspects linked to the case were also charged yesterday, while the others were released.
Men Samay, Mr Vannak’s driver, and Choem Vuth, the maid’s husband, were charged with concealment of evidence, according to Mr Sophanna.
“The prosecutor decided to charge Lay Vannak and Lay Narith with murder,” he said. “Men Samay and Choem Vuth were charged with concealment of evidence.”
“The prosecutor decided to send those people and the case to an investigating judge to continue to take action,” he added, noting all four have now been jailed pending further court proceedings.
The two suspects released were the maid, Chan Ry, and Tak Ratana, a driver for Mr Narith, said Mr Sophanna.
Mr Vannak and Mr Narith face ten to 15 years in prison, while Mr Vuth and Mr Samay face one to three years in prison if convicted.
Mr Vannak, who was arrested over the death of Ms Sovathana on Sunday, was earlier stripped of his role as the province’s governor following the apparent suicide of Ms Sovathana, a National Assembly staffer and member of the CPP’s youth group.
After her body was found, Daun Keo city police and local media reported the case as a suicide, but concerns from her family that she had been killed led to the case being reopened.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said on Monday that Mr Samay told police prior to his first court appearance that Mr Vannak killed his mistress and then asked him to cover it up as a suicide.
“His driver said that Mr Vannak is involved with this case,” Mr Sopheak said. “Mr Vannak ordered him to organise the body.”
“This is a murder case; it is not a suicide case,” Mr Sopheak added.
Tep Panha, a lawyer for former deputy provincial police chief Mr Narith, said his client has denied any involvement in the case from the beginning.
“He denied any involvement since he was first questioned by police,” he said.
Rous Phalla, a lawyer for Mr Vannak, could not be reached for comment.
Before his arrest on Sunday, Mr Vannak denied that he and Mr Narith were involved in the death of Ms Sovathana, but admitted that he had an affair with her more than one year ago.
“I did not kill her,” Mr Vannak said, adding that she likely committed suicide because he wanted to end their relationship, while she wanted to become his second wife.
“I would not dare to kill her and sacrifice five lives, including my life, my wife’s life and my three children’s lives,” Mr Vannak said.
Daun Keo city police chief Chhay Savuth said in January that Ms Sovathana had killed herself, noting that officers suspected she was involved in a love affair based upon a letter found by her body.
After her funeral, the victim’s family raised concerns that the case may not have been a suicide and local news reports published their claims.
The reports said that no chair was found by the body, meaning it would have been impossible for her to hang herself, and added that her hand was found locked into the rope’s knots, apparently from a struggle to free herself.
The reports also said that fingerprints were found on the body and that the case was likely murder motivated by a love triangle.
Mr Vannak, who became Takeo governor in 2014 after working as an official with the Council of Ministers, made headlines in 2012 after police said he shot a karaoke parlour owner in the foot during a night of drinking.
Leng Peng Long, spokesman for the National Assembly, said yesterday that Ms Sovathana worked in the protocol department and had served at parliament for more than 10 years.
“She was a good person, a friendly person, and a hard-working person,” said Mr Peng Long.