Wed, Nov 26, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Cambodian leader's nephew arrested on murder charges

AP , PHNOM PENH

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's nephew was arrested yesterday on murder charges for allegedly shooting to death two people after a car crash that left one person dead, police said.

Nim Sophea, 22, was arrested at about 2:30am just north of Phnom Penh on charges of causing a traffic accident and murder, according to a warrant signed by judge Hing Thirith. He was taken to a municipal court, where he will be questioned.

Nim Sophea is the son of Hun Sen's sister Hun Sinath, a Foreign Ministry official. She is married to Nim Chan Dara, the undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who until recently was the ambassador to Myanmar.

"We have determined that Nim Sophea was the shooter, but Nim Sophea himself has claimed to the [police] that he did not shoot, but that he was the one who tried to stop his friend who was shooting," said Heng Pov, a deputy police commissioner.

The Oct. 27 shooting happened after a car racing three other vehicles down a Phnom Penh street lost control and crashed into a parked truck, killing one person and injuring two.

Nim Sophea, who was involved in the race, allegedly fired an automatic rifle wildly at passers-by after the accident, killing two people and injuring two, police said. His motive wasn't clear, but police believe he may have been angry or drunk.

All those involved in the accident fled, and there were no arrests made at the time.

Defense lawyer Dy Borima told reporters that his client has been detained for further investigation by the court. It is not clear when he will be freed or when the first court hearing will be held.

Dy Borima said Nim Sophea "was not the one who actually fired" the rifle, but in fact tried to wrest the gun from the gunman.

"Once he got it, the gun had already stop firing. That is the true story," Dy Borima said.

"He didn't want other people to get hurt. But when he was seen holding the gun, he was named as the shooter," he said.

However, Heng Pov, the police officer, said Nim Sophea was named by another man arrested in connection with the shooting. That man, Than Chamroeun, has been charged with causing a traffic accident that resulted in death.

Nim Sophea's younger brother, Nim Chan Tana, was also summoned on Tuesday to the municipal court. It wasn't clear why he was summoned, but it's believed that he was involved in the car race, Heng Pov said.

This wasn't the first time that Hun Sen's relatives have had run-ins with the law. They have been arrested and held in the past for acts of violence, but are generally released later without facing much punishment.

The availability of guns in Cambodia contributes to an atmosphere of lawlessness that also benefits from inefficient and corrupt law enforcement, and the immunity from prosecution usually enjoyed by people with wealth and influence.

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