Attention has turned to a young man who posted dozens of photos of himself in soldier’s uniform as the “mastermind” behind a planned kidnapping after military police shot dead four alleged would-be kidnappers in a shootout at a Phnom Penh gated housing complex on Monday.
According to a Phnom Penh Municipal Military Police statement, Oem Sovannarith was the mastermind behind a plan to make a rich landlord write the group a check for $1 million at gunpoint, then take one of his daughters to a bank to cash the check. After threatening the landlord to answer a call from the bank to confirm the check, the group allegedly would kill the landlord, his wife, six children and two servants and take their possessions.
The plan, the military police statement said, “was leaked to the Phnom Penh military police.”
Officers waited four days at the landlord’s house at Borey Angkor Phnom Penh, and at 11 a.m. Monday, “the four criminals came to rob as planned,” the statement says.
The alleged criminals had one AK-47 and two pistols, and the officers “used their right to self-defense and fired back,” it says.
The four men died at the scene.
On Tuesday, social and local media was full of photos taken from a Facebook profile of a young man in the uniform of the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit, claiming the man was in his early 20s and was the would-be kidnappers’ mastermind. TikTok contained a slew of videos showing photographs of the man posing with soldiers and officials.
The unit’s chief, Hing Bun Heang, however, denied that Sovannarith was a soldier.
“He might be a driver, and when the bodyguard unit sometimes has events, he might have come along with a participant. In short, he is not in my bodyguard unit, the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces or the [Defense] Ministry,” Bun Heang said.
“He was just a driver … and he might be friends with my bodyguards and dressed himself in their uniform,” he laughed. “His name is not in the bodyguard unit. … The law was right to gun him down.”
National Military Police commander Sao Sokha said officers had fulfilled their duties in the incident.
“Because we knew in advance, we prepared an ambush,” Sokha said. “It was the duty and role of the military police. The military police was created to provide security for people, so this work the military police has done served the people in relation to security and social order.”