PHNOM PENH — The man who allegedly shot dead a Cambodian government critic over what he claimed was a money dispute is too poor to have loaned the victim USD$3,000 (105,000 baht), his wife said Tuesday.
“We don’t have USD$3,000 at home. We just have enough for a hand-to-mouth existence,” Hoeum Huth, who makes a living selling pork on her bicycle, said in a telephone interview from her village in northwestern Siem Reap province.
Her husband, Oeut Ang, has been in custody in Phnom Penh since Sunday, when he allegedly shot to death Kem Ley, a prominent political analyst and government critic.
After he was caught by police in a chase, Oeut Ang said during interrogation that Kem Ley had borrowed USD$3,000 from him, and that he killed him because he had failed to return the money. However, opposition parties and Global Witness, a British activist group about whose work Kem Ley occasionally made radio commentaries, have suggested a political conspiracy behind the killing.
Asked if she believes that her husband was hired by someone to kill Kem Ley, Hoeum Huth replied: “I don’t know about this. I am very perplexed as to why he murdered Kem Ley because I have never heard him says that Kem Ley owed him money.”
“I was shocked when I saw his picture on TV, and they said he was the killer,” Hoeum Huth, 45, said.
She said she married Oeut Ang on May 7 after the match was arranged by his mother. She said her husband was a former Khmer Rouge soldier, a former government soldier, a monk for three years and a farm worker in Thailand before joining a local environment nongovernmental organization.
She described Oeut Ang as a good husband who never displayed any violence.
“During these two months of our living as husband and wife, he never provoked any problem or used violence against me,” she said. “He is a quiet man and normally if he’s not going to work he stays at home and helps me with housework.”
Oeut Ang was brought to a Phnom Penh court on Tuesday, but the media were kept out. It was not immediately clear whether he had been formally charged.
Kem Ley’s body is being kept at a Buddhist temple until his funeral on July 19 to allow his admirers and friends to pay their respects.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, often a target of Kem Ley’s criticism, has promised a thorough investigation into the killing, which came at a time of political tension that began last year with legal and other pressures by the government on the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.
Kem Ley was widely known because he was frequently heard on the popular Cambodian-language services of Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, U.S. government-funded services that are among the few independent news sources in Cambodia. He was also frequently quoted in the country’s handful of independent newspapers.
One of his most recent commentaries was about a report issued last week by the London-based research and advocacy group Global Witness that alleged that Hun Sen and his family have enriched themselves and kept power through corruption.
Kem Ley is the most prominent Cambodian government critic to be killed since trade union leader Chea Vichea in 2004.