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Elusive accused: Five ‘wanted’ but still free

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Chouk Bandith. Heng Chivoan

Elusive accused: Five ‘wanted’ but still free


While the arrest of former Bavet governor Chouk Bandith marked a rare instance of a powerful perpetrator finally facing justice, many more accused and convicted criminals from elite backgrounds remain free despite strong evidence pointing toward guilt. Bennett Murray this week spoke to a range of political analysts and human rights monitors to compile a list of five of Cambodia’s most wanted, but least sought-after

Khoun Sophal 

Among Cambodia’s longest-running cases of an oligarch on the run is the infamous acid attack on a teenage karaoke starlet caught in a tryst with the perpetrator’s husband in 1999.

According to witnesses, Khoun Sophal, wife of high-ranking Council of Ministers official Svay Sitha, threw 15-year-old Tat Marina to the ground with the help of two bodyguards at a food stall near the Olympic Market.

With one bodyguard holding her down, the other poured 5 litres of nitric acid onto the girl’s head and body.

Although wanted for arrest for her alleged involvement, Khoun Sophal vanished and her husband was later promoted to secretary of state.

“There’s been no real effort to seek her out, no such call from Hun Sen,” lamented political analyst Ou Virak, adding that there were unconfirmed reports that Khoun Sophal has been living freely in Phnom Penh since.

Chea Ratha 

A former deputy chief of staff in the military police, Chea Ratha has yet to face justice for a 2008 acid attack that inflicted fatal wounds on the aunt of her reportedly reluctant lover.

After her beauty queen mistress went into hiding to flee the allegedly forced relationship, In Soklyda bore the brunt of Ratha’s rage after two accomplices on a motorcycle poured acid on her face and upper body.

Although convicted along with six others and added to Interpol’s Red List, Ratha never saw the inside of a jail cell and is believed by officials to be hiding in Chaing Mai.

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Chea Ratha. Photo supplied

It may not have been the first time Ratha had ordered an acid attack on a foe – she had previously been acquitted in two similar cases.

Soklyda, who lost an eye and breast in the attack, died in 2011 from complications stemming from the attack three years prior.

Ou Virak said that, like the Sitha case, Ratha will likely stay free for the time being thanks to her powerful position within elite patronage networks.

“It’s always important to prosecute these cases . . . but no, it’s not an unusual case,” he said.

Kham Khoeun 

This disgraced ex-governor of Ratanakkiri was busted with six others for a major illegal logging operation that sent some $15 million of poached timber from Virachey National Park to Vietnam.

Despite being sentenced to 17 years in prison, he has evaded arrest for nine years.

Sebastian Strangio, author of Hun Sen’s Cambodia and a former Phnom Penh Post editor, described Khoeun’s gang as “patsies” working for larger fish in Phnom Penh.

“The government needed some heads to roll to satisfy the World Bank and other donors, and the provincial officials were made to take the fall ­– but not before ‘eluding’ custody,” said Strangio.

Married to a Laotian, Khoeun is suspected by officials to be residing in Laos.

Sila Ratanak 

This daughter of a deputy tourism police chief in Preah Vihear went to ground following a fatal hit and run, which killed an Irish expatriate, and is still wanted for prosecution.

At about 1:30am on September 28 last year, Ratanak is alleged to have killed 30-year-old Tomas Beecher as he crossed Monivong Boulevard on his bicycle. 

While the death of a foreign citizen generated an unusually high amount of press coverage, Ou Virak said it would have scarcely been news had the victim been Cambodian.

“It happens quite a lot, particularly if the victim is not a foreigner,” he said.

Korng Sophat

Convicted of a 2010 rape of an 11-year-old girl, Korng Sophat is well known to police . . . as a colleague.

Despite being sentenced to a five-year prison sentence in April by the provincial court, Sophat is not only free pending his appeal but is also still in uniform. Such impunity, said Ou Virak, stemmed largely from a general flippancy toward rape within the legal system. 

“Rape charges are not considered a serious crime, which is very upsetting,” he said.

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