Cambodian Collapsed Building Owner Released on Bail

cambodia-building-collapse-rescue-crop.jpg In this photo provided by the Kep Provincial Authority, emergency workers wrap the body of a victim of a building collapse in Kep province, southern Cambodia, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020.

The owner of the seven-story hotel in Cambodia’s Kep Province that collapsed late last week was released on bail Tuesday, in a rare move in the country’s justice system.

An estimated 36 people were killed and 23 were injured, most of whom were living in the unfinished building as members of the crew that was constructing it.

Kampot Provincial Court’s Chief Administration Director Man Boreth told RFA’s Khmer Service that the court charged Ek Sarun, owner of the structure, with unintended murder and injury, but released him on U.S. 90,000 bail.

But an official of a prominent Cambodian rights organization told RFA that he thought Ek had received preferential treatment.

“I suspect that the accused might have relatives in the ruling party, so that’s why the court released him,” said Am Sam Ath, the director of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO).

He said releasing Ek would affect the court’s ability to investigate, and the accused should be detained until the investigation is complete to insure that the victims will receive justice.

Bail in Cambodia

LICADHO in November 2018 published a report urging Cambodia’s judges to more effectively use bail policies to reduce the population in the country’s overcrowded prison system. The report detailed how accused people were routinely detained for periods sometimes approaching two years without trial.

“In practice, bail is denied to those accused of even the most common and non-violent crimes,” the report said.

In November 2019, Reuters reported that Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the release on bail of some 70 opposition activists accused of plotting to overthrow the government.

In that report Mu Sochua, a deputy in the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), said that the Prime Minister’s gesture was nothing but a political ruse to “divide and conquer.”

Construction accidents

Tragedies such as last week’s collapse are common amid a construction boom in Cambodia, where developers often ignore permit requirements or simply never apply for them, and workers have died as a result.

RFA reported in June that a Chinese-owned unlicensed seven-story building collapsed in Sihanoukville, killing 28 people and injuring 26—many of whom were construction workers sleeping on the second floor at the time of the incident.

Calls for the country to take action against illegal construction were made to Hun Sen following that incident, including through measures such as shutting off the electrical and water supply to sites, refusing access to the sewage system, rejecting permit applications, and banning marketing materials from offending developers.

Last week, Yun Phally, the Kep province coordinator for local rights group ADHOC, told RFA that the construction permit for the hotel in Kep province did not allow for seven floors, and suggested that corruption may have caused local officials to turn a blind eye to what was happening at the site.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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