The lawyer of two building owners charged with manslaughter over the deaths of 36 people during the Kep collapse is arguing his clients should not have been indicted because they did nothing wrong.
The owners Ek Sarun and his wife Chhiv Sothy, who live in Preah Sihanouk province’s Sihanoukville, were arrested a day after the collapse in Kep.
They were charged by Kampot provincial court with manslaughter and causing involuntary bodily harm under Articles 207 and 236 of the Criminal Code. However, they were released after posting an $87,000 bail.
Kep province does not have a court.
Kong Sam Onn, the lawyer, yesterday said his clients received the verbal permission from local officials to construct the building before getting official written permission from Provincial Hall.
“There were two approvals for the construction of this building. First, it was verbal approval and second the written approval,” Mr Sam Onn. “If the local authorities did not allow them, how could they start the construction?”
“It is not their mistake because they already received verbal approval. It is an administrative matter,” he added.
Mr Sam Onn said the contractor was to blame for the collapse, adding his clients were not responsible because they had signed a contract handing over the construction project to the contractor.
“The one who was responsible for the collapse is the contractor because of course, the owners would not want their building to collapse,” he said. “The only thing that they could be held responsible for is compensating the victims.”
“In this case, my clients engaged the contractor who was responsible for construction work and only bought materials like cement when he asked them to do so,” Mr Sam Onn added. “They cannot be accused of being careless in the building process.”
According to a list provided by Provincial Hall, the contractor was Has Sokun.
Survivors of the collapse who worked with Mr Sokun confirmed he died along with his wife and two children in the collapse.
Mr Sam Onn said the charge of manslaughter against his clients is severe.
“They should not be charged with manslaughter and causing involuntary bodily harm unless they were responsible for the construction,” Mr Sam Onn said. “If authorities had banned them from doing the construction and they went ahead then they could be held responsible.”
“The court claims that because there were many deaths, it considers my clients as being responsible but criminal responsibility is the contractor’s,” he said, adding his clients are willing to compensate victims if the Kampot court gives the order.
Soth Puthi Manin, deputy director of the provincial land management department, recently said although permission was given for the five-storey hotel, a seven-storey building was being built, including a mezzanine level above the ground floor.
Mr Puthi Manin said the mezzanine slabs, which were not included in the building permit request, were added after the fourth floor had been built.
Mr Sam Onn said his clients did not violate the permission to build a five-storey building because the mezzanine level and roof should not be counted as floors.
Ouk Oeun, 48, a survivor who lost four family members, including his wife, yesterday said the owners of the building must be held responsible for the collapse.
“It is not fair to blame only the contractor,” he said. “The building owners must also be held responsible for the collapse.”
Mr Oeun claimed that he often saw Sarun issuing orders to the contractor who also died in the collapse.
“He [Sarun] is the one who ordered the contractor to do whatever he wanted,” he said. “The contractor would not dare to do something without his permission and asked his opinion all the time.”