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Back to square one: Court orders reinvestigation into Kep building collapse

Ben Sokhean / Khmer Times Share:
A member of the Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia joins a campaign to seek justice for the victims of last year’s deadly building collapse in Kep province. Facebook

On the day when it was due to deliver a verdict on two accused over last year’s deadly building collapse in Kep province, the Kampot provincial court yesterday ordered a reinvestigation into the incident.

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The decision shocked families of 36 victims, including children, who were killed and 23 workers who survived the collapse of a seven-story hotel under construction in Kep city on January 4 last year.

The building owners Ek Sarun and his wife Chhiv Sothy were charged with “manslaughter and causing involuntary bodily harm” under Articles 207 and 236 of the Criminal Code after they were arrested in Preah Sihanouk province days after the building collapse.

However, they were released on bail after they promised to follow the court conditions for bail and deposited about $87,000 with the court.

According to the law, manslaughter is defined as an act causing the death of another person through negligence, recklessness or carelessness.

 

 

The charges carry a jail term of between one and three years and a fine up to about $1,500.

Additionally, causing involuntary bodily harm is defined as causing an injury to another person through negligence, recklessness or carelessness. The charges carry a jail term of between six months and two years and a fine of up to $1,000.

Their representative has pinned the blame for the collapse on a contractor who died during the incident but said they are willing to provide compensation to the families of those who perished or were injured.

During the court session before a verdict was to be delivered, attended by some families of victims and their lawyers, Presiding Judge Men Vannak ordered authorities to reopen the case.

Ky Tech, head of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Volunteer Lawyer Group which is helping the victims’ families and survivors to find justice, said yesterday that his group also attended the hearing.

“With regard to the verdict, the court decided to ‘take action’ to further interview witnesses and seven experts,” he said. “[The court] will retry the case at a later date.”

Since last week Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia (BWTUC) members across the country posted the picture of them holding posters and pictures of the collapsed building, calling for “justice” for the families of victims and survivors.

“If you killed a worker, you should go to jail,” one of many signs posted on Facebook said.

“Kep province building collapse, 36 tragic deaths, the killers walk free” another one read.

Ouk Oeun, 48, a survivor from Prey Veng province who lost four family members, including his wife, did not attend the brief session yesterday. However, he said his family is not happy with the court’s decision.

“We are heartbroken by the court decision today. The authorities promised to find justice for us, but more than a year later, there is still no closure. I don’t know when the court will finish its investigation. They keep delaying it,” he said.

“I appeal to the court or relevant authorities to speed up the investigation, find the truth and end the mental anguish of all the family members of victims,” Oeun added.

Min Tak, 38, from Kampot province who lost his 17-year-old son and 42-year-old wife during the building collapse, said yesterday that he has been devastated over the loss.

“Please the court take action according to the law,” he said.

Sok Kin, president of the BWTUC who is observing the case closely, yesterday expressed his disappointment over the court decision, saying the families of victims and survivors still have not been given justice.

“I am deeply disappointed by the decision of the Kampot Provincial Court to order a re-investigation. I urge the court or relevant parties to conduct a thorough investigation into those responsible for causing the deaths and injuries of the workers,” he said.

“They suffered from the collapse of the building. It is enough and the court or relevant authorities are still trying to delay it, so they still do not get justice for the case,” he said. “We have noticed that in the case of an employer suing the workers, the case proceeds quickly, but this case took more than a year and is still delayed.”

Kin said union members had been campaigning on social media to demand justice.

“If this case continues, I understand that the affected workers may lose the opportunity to receive fair and just compensation. They cannot sit and wait for the hearing. They have to work to support their families.”

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