A long-time Australian expat and business-owner here has spoken to Khmer Times this week of his horror and frustration following the release of a motodup driver who was caught on CCTV allegedly drugging and then raping a woman in his bar.
According to the bar owner, as well as the victim and members of her family – all of whom have asked not to be named – police said they decided to release the suspect without charge, despite graphic video evidence and a confession from him.
Officers said he was released on November 25 while further paperwork was referred to Sihanoukville’s police commissariat.
The investigating officer, Samnang Sao, has been criticized for failing to properly communicate with the woman the suspect confessed to raping and her relatives about the case. Mr. Sao confirmed this week that charges had not been filed and the suspect had been released.
Tourism officials here have responded with shock and disbelief, saying the suspect is a dangerous individual who needs to be taken off the streets. The way the case has been handled is increasing doubts here about the ability of Sihanoukville’s police to keep residents safe.
“They’ve done so little, I just can’t believe this,” the woman who filed the police complaint said. “It’s a nightmare,” said her relative. “Even with the suspect [detained], the video and a confession they let him go.”
Senior police officers here have been passing the buck when contacted by Khmer Times, with the chief initially in charge of the case confirming that the suspect was “still working as normal.” “It’s not my case anymore, but my boss’s responsibility,” he said.
The moto driver, who is known in the area around Victory Hill and Golden Lions, visited a bar on Victory Hill on the morning of November 2, where he was caught on camera putting a substance into the woman’s drink when she was not looking.
In the disturbing footage captured by the bar’s owner and later shown to Khmer Times, the suspect later checks to verify that the woman is unconscious before dragging her onto the floor.
He is then seen removing his clothes and the woman’s. In his confession, he described having sexual intercourse with the unconscious woman for a lengthy period as rape. When he finished, the video shows him dressing himself and then the woman. Next, he finishes his drink at the bar and leaves. The woman remains passed out on the floor behind the bar.
Haunted by Video
According to her relative, she could not be woken for 11 hours and felt foggy and confused for days after. She said she has little memory of the event but is haunted by the images in the video. “I don’t understand why this man isn’t in prison yet,” she said.
“Considering the evidence against him, the nature of the attack and that he confessed, we were all baffled when the police told us they were releasing him without charge,” said the woman’s employer.
Frustrated with the lack of police progress in tracking down the attacker, the woman’s employer decided to take matters into his own hands.
On the evening of November 25, after three weeks of searching, he found the alleged rapist working at Golden Lions. He grabbed him and immediately handed him over to police.
The suspect, however, did not spend a single night in jail. Despite confessing after hours of questioning and being confronted with the CCTV evidence, police declined to press charges against him and released him.
“They told us he will be questioned by the court soon, but didn’t say when,” said the owner of the bar where the incident occurred. “They released him, but nobody knows where he really is. It’s a shambles.”
Men identifying themselves as reporters from a national TV news network subsequently visited the bar and told the woman that they would broadcast personal details about her as well as images or video clips of the incident unless she paid them $100.
“They denied getting the information and images from the police, but said they had them and would broadcast or publish them unless we paid,” said the bar owner.
“We don’t know if they actually had anything,” said the woman. “They wouldn’t show us, but I paid them anyway because I was scared of them showing the horrible video on TV.”
Contacted by Khmer Times this week and asked why officers had decided to release the suspect without charge – despite his confession that he had raped the woman and CCTV footage confirming this – investigating officer Samnang Sao refused to comment.
His boss, Khieu Vantha, chief of police at Sangkat No. 3 station, told Khmer Times that despite a confession and the video evidence, police could not arrest the suspect without a warrant, which they did not have because the suspect had not been caught “red-handed.”
Other officers expressed confusion and uncertainty about the status of the case and which officer was leading the investigation.
Brig. General Chuon Narin, Sihanoukville’s chief of police, said he did not have all the details of the case, but said it was being investigated and indicated that he would look into it.
In October, Sihanoukville police officers were heavily criticized after they released a Virak Buntham bus driver who had been accused of sexually assaulting a British traveller on a sleeper bus. Media reports and prodding by consular officials from the British embassy eventually resulted in his imprisonment.