Cambodian Journalists Alliance

Court sidesteps verdict, calls for reinvestigation into Kep building collapse

Rescue teams work to remove people trapped under the collapsed Kep building in January 2020.
Rescue teams work to remove people trapped under the collapsed Kep building in January 2020.
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The Kampot Provincial Court on Wednesday decided to order a reinvestigation into the deadly collapse of a building in Kep province last year, which killed 36 people and injured 23 others, and did not deliver a verdict as expected.

An under-construction seven-floor building collapsed on January 3, 2020, in the coastal province of Kep. Ek Sarun, 65, and his wife, Chhiv Sothy, 61, who were owners of the building, were first arrested shortly after the collapse but then released on bail. They were charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Mann Bunret, a Kampot Provincial Court spokesperson, said that the court had decided to reinvestigate the case but did not elaborate on the court’s rationale for the decision.

“The court decided to reinvestigate the case,” Bunret said. “It is a confidential issue of the court, so I cannot tell you.”

Ek Sarun and Chhiv Sothy are under court supervision after providing a bail guarantee of $88,500 for bail.

Ouk Oeun, a construction worker and survivor of the crash, who lost his wife and three members of his family, said the court should fast-track the proceedings because his family had already waited a long time for justice.

“We want the court to speed up the procedures because I and other victims’ families have been waiting for a resolution for a long time,” said Oeun. “We want the court to find justice for us faster.”

Oeun was working on the ground floor of the building during the collapse and was found unconscious by rescue teams as they sifted through the debris.

Chhorn Eoub is the mother of two survivors of the collapse, but her son-in-law died in the accident. She too implored the court to reach a verdict soon.

“I want the court to finish this case faster,” Eoub said, adding that the survivors should get $20,000 in compensation each.

Sok Kin, president of the Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia, said the delay in reaching a verdict meant that justice was not delivered to the victims and their families.

“Victims are getting double injustice,” Kin said. “First, they die in the building collapse and secondly, they get injustice from the court because it has prolonged the investigation.”

He said it was apparent that the rich and powerful were able to get desirable court verdicts but that the average citizen was not as lucky. He said failure to adequately punish those responsible for the incident would only encourage other builders to continue to flout the rules.

Khieu Phearo, who is part of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s legal team assigned to assist in the case, declined to comment on the lack of a verdict and referred questions to Ky Tech, another lawyer and the head of Hun Sen’s legal team.

Ky Tech said the court had decided to further investigate the case, especially the seven witnesses and experts who had testified during the trial.

“This case will be heard again and lawyers will continue to defend the interests of the victims, no matter what the circumstances,” said Ky Tech.

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