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Publisher arrested over armed extortion attempt

Buth Reaksmey Kongkea / Khmer Times Share:
The accused’s press credentials. CEN

Siem Reap police on Tuesday arrested a journalist who used a gun to extort money from a military officer who he thought was a timber merchant.

Major Seng Bunthoeun, deputy chief of the criminal investigation department, identified the suspect as Chhom Sitha, 55, the publisher of Damnoeung Kampuchea Newspaper who lives in the province.​ He said that the victim, Mey Sou, 40, with the Preah Vihear Provincial Operation Base in Svay Loeu district, is also a taxi driver.

Maj Bunthoeun said that the suspect spotted the victim driving his taxi at about 11am on Tuesday and thought he was a merchant transporting luxury timber from the Cambodian-Thai border in Preah Vihear to Siem Reap without permission.

He gave chase in his Camry and stopped in front of Mr Sou’s taxi.

“The suspect did not know that the victim was a military officer,” he said. “He wanted to extort money from him in exchange for not reporting or publishing that the victim was transporting the timber.”

“After stopping the car, the suspect walked to the victim and took out a pistol,” he added. “He ordered the victim to step out and pay him for his silence.”

Chhom Sitha after his arrest. CEN

Maj Bunthoeun said that the victim refused and sped off with the two passengers he was ferrying.

“The suspect became angry and fired two shots toward the taxi,” he said. “Luckily the bullets did not hit the taxi or its occupants.”

Maj Bunthoeun said the victim drove straight to the Provincial Military Police headquarters and lodged a report.

He added that Mr Sitha was arrested at the newspaper’s office in Siem Reap’s Svay Loeu district at about 8pm. Police seized the Camry, pistol and several bullets from him.

Provincial deputy police chief Brigadier General Phoeung Chendareth said they police have accused Mr Sitha of using an unauthorised weapon and issuing a death threat, offences that could lead to three years in jail.

He said the suspect was being detained for further questioning and would be sent to the provincial court today.

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