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Cambodia Court Sentences Former Soldier to Life for Murder of Analyst Kem Ley

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Traffic light on a street in Cambodia

Traffic light on a street in Cambodia. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A court in Cambodia sentenced a former soldier to life in prison Thursday for killing prominent political analyst Kem Ley, prompting demands for an independent inquiry into the slaying many believe was not adequately investigated.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Oueth Ang—who calls himself Chuob Samlab, a Khmer name meaning “meet to kill”—solely responsible for Kem Ley’s death, and guilty of illegal possession of a weapon and premeditated murder under Articles 490 and 200 of Cambodia’s penal code, respectively.

Kem Ley, 46, was gunned down on the morning of July 10, 2016 as he stopped for coffee in a Star Mart store at a gasoline station on a busy intersection in the capital.

Immediately following the 40-minute hearing to review the case, Judge Leang Samnath sent Oueth Ang to prison to begin serving his life sentence. According to the ruling, Oueth Ang can file an appeal if he is not satisfied with his sentence.

Speaking to reporters after the punishment was handed down, lawyer Yong Phanith, who was designated by the Cambodian Bar Association to represent Oueth Ang, said he plans to meet with his client in advance of any pursuit of an appeal.

But he indicated that he was unsatisfied with the ruling and urged the court to investigate the case further, noting that Oueth Ang was the only person arrested in connection with the murder, though witness testimony and evidence suggested others were involved.

“The court should investigate other involved individuals for [additional] convictions,” he said.

“According to the facts of this case, there are two other individuals that the court need to investigate—namely, Pou Lis and Chork, according to what we have learnt during the hearing.”

Pou Lis (the Khmer word for police) is the name of a man Oeuth Ang said had provided him with Kem Ley’s license plate number, and he said a Thai national named Chork sold him the gun he used in the killing.

Oueth Ang had confessed during his brief March 1 trial to shooting Kem Ley twice at blank point range after growing angry over an unpaid debt of U.S. $3,000, though his motive is not supported by physical evidence and has been widely dismissed by critics.

During the trial, court authorities reviewed blurry footage from the CCTV camera at the Star Mart showing the killing and other video clips from nearby street cameras showing the defendant running from the crime scene through several downtown intersections.

Footage from additional CCTV cameras inside the convenience store was confiscated by police and delivered to court authorities, but inexplicably never shown as evidence.

Most of the 10 people who delivered testimonies during the trial were police officers who read brief statements and were never comprehensively cross-examined, while several other potentially important witnesses were never brought to court.

Several inconsistencies in Oeuth Ang’s statements have also led to widespread skepticism over how the case was handled.

The defendant maintains he is Chuob Samlab, an orphan who never married and purchased the pistol he used to kill Kem Ley with money earned by working on a cassava plantation in Thailand, but his wife and mother presented an identification card to the court with his fingerprints on it, indicating he is Oueth Ang, a former soldier and forest ranger.

Oueth Ang’s claim that he loaned Kem Ley U.S. $3,000 for a job and a home has also been refuted by both his family and that of the victim, who say the two had never met, while the killer’s wife maintains he was too poor to lend out money.

Full story:

Reported by Moniroth Morm and Sereyvuth Oung for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Copyright © 1998-2017, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036.

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