Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Phnom Penh Appeal Court upholds lower court verdict on Sihanoukville building collapse

Defendants arrive at the Appeal Court of Phnom Penh to listen their verdict, August 6, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
Defendants arrive at the Appeal Court of Phnom Penh to listen their verdict, August 6, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

The Appeal Court in Phnom Penh on Friday upheld the decision of the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court, which last year sentenced four Chinese nationals to 2.5 to 3 years in prison for their role in the 2019 building collapse in Sihanoukville that killed 28 people and injured 26.

“It really was an action that unintentionally caused damage and caused people to die,” presiding judge Sin Visal said, reading the verdict.

The collapse of the seven-story Chinese-owned building on June 22, 2019, which was still under construction, brought widespread attention to the slapdash development of Sihanoukville and lack of enforcement regarding construction codes. 

Chinese nationals Cheng Kun, 39, building owner; Deng Xing Gui, construction supervisor, 48; Xie Ya Ping, 43; and Gao You, 29 were convicted and sentenced in July 2020 on charges of involuntary manslaughter and causing unintentional injury, damage and deaths. A fifth individual, Vietnamese national Nguyen Thi Thuy Hao, who went on the run, was sentenced in absentia.

In addition to the sentencing, the Preah Sihanouk provincial court ordered the group to pay a total of 60 to 100 million riel [about $15,000 to $25,000] to the families of each of the dead as well as 20 million riel to each injured worker. The court also ordered them to pay for damages caused to homes near the site of the collapse.

Ton Kimhouy, a lawyer for four defendants, said that the decision was unfair for her clients, particularly for Ya Ping and Gao You, who she said were just a painter and chef on the construction site and victims themselves. Ya Ping, she said, did not escape and went to the police station voluntarily to answer questions, even though she had two children and elderly parents back in China. 

“This sentencing is an injustice for them,” she said. “I regret that the appeal court did not reduce the sentence for my clients.”

She said that the others had just made an unintentional mistake and noted that her clients lost millions of dollars of their own investment.

“They lost a lot, so they do not have money to pay the compensation,” Kimhouy said. “They do not have intent to commit a crime.”

Rescue teams search for missing workers at the collapsed building in Sihanoukville in June 2019. CamoJA/ Panha Chhorpoan
Rescue teams search for missing workers at the collapsed building in Sihanoukville in June 2019. CamoJA/ Panha Chhorpoan

Government lawyer Ky Tech, representative of the lawyers for the victims, said they “welcome this decision.”

Huy Phary, a lawyer representing the victims said he did not listen to the verdict as he is in quarantine but was happy to hear of the outcome.

“My clients agree with this decision because the court ordered the defendants to pay the compensation for my clients,” Phary said.

While the defendants have a month to appeal to the Supreme Court, victims said they hoped the case would be resolved soon as they badly needed the compensation.

“This amount of the compensation is enough for us as the victims, but sadly we have not received it so far. We urge the authorities to expedite their work in order to end this case as soon as possible,” said Sok Samphors, whose husband, Ouk Savath, was injured in the collapse.

Secretary general of the Building and Wood Trade Union, Yan Thy told CamboJA victims shouldn’t have to wait so long to get compensation as most are facing severe financial difficulties. 

“The victims possibly could not get justice soon, so the government should intervene in finding justice for them,” said Yan Thy.

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