Two Detained, Questioned in Frenchwoman’s Murder

A Belgian national and a Cambodian man have been detained for questioning in Kampot province in connection with the murder of 25-year-old Frenchwoman Ophelie Begnis in February, police officials said Thursday.

The naked and battered body of the 25-year-old Frenchwoman was discovered floating near a riverbank in Kampot City’s Andoung Khmer commune on February 10. She had been staying in Les Manguiers guesthouse in Toek Chhou district and was last seen leaving the residence on a bicycle the previous day.

Lieutenant General Mok Chito, director of the central judicial police department at the Ministry of Interior, said that both the Belgian and Cambodian men are suspects in the murder investigation.

“We have detained a suspect who is a Belgian national at his rental house and one Cambodian man,” Lt. Gen. Chito said, declining to provide any details regarding the evidence against the pair.

“They are suspects and we are working on this case,” he said.

There was no mention Thursday of charges being brought against the men, and there were also conflicting reports that the Belgian was detained on Tuesday evening, and not Wednesday, as reported by police.

Thlang Phirin, Kampot provincial police chief, identified the detained men as Nop Pheakdey, 30, and Olivier, 40, whose surname name is Van den Bogaert.

Thierry Balimier, honorary consul at the Belgian Consulate in Phnom Penh, said that Mr. van den Bogaert had been questioned once before, on March 15, regarding the murder of Ophelie Begnis. At that time, Mr. van den Bogaert was taken to Phnom Penh for questioning and then to Kampot before he was released.

“I know about a dozen people were questioned in this case but everyone else was released the same day. He was detained [for] about three nights,” Mr. Balimier said. “[Right now], he’s with the police and we are following this case,” he said.

“We have informed his family and the family can mobilize for a lawyer if it is necessary. We are providing him with consular assistance as is afforded any Belgian citizen,” he said.

Nicolas Baudouin, first secretary at the French Embassy, said the embassy had been informed of the questioning.

“We have been informed by the police that one person is being questioned by the police but haven’t been informed about possible charges held against him for the time being,” he said in an email.

A resident of Cambodia for about three years, Mr. van den Bogaert is the former owner of Olly’s Place Kampot, a guesthouse in Toek Chhou district located about 1 km from Les Manguiers, said Sebastian Sabre, the new owner who took over on April 1.

Contradicting the date of arrest claimed by the police, Mr. Sabre said Mr. van den Bogaert was actually arrested on Tuesday at around 5 p.m. when he was at the guesthouse drinking beer.

“I also went to the police yesterday and I spent five hours there being questioned,” Mr. Sabre said.

The detention and questioning of the two men comes on the heels of the discovery of a bicycle, which police think is the one Ophelie Begnis had last been riding before she disappeared, said Sam Sophea, owner of Les Manguiers.

Ms. Sophea said Thursday that she was asked on Tuesday to identify a bicycle, but since she was in Phnom Penh, she sent a member of her staff instead.

“My staff was not fully sure—he was about 70 to 75 percent sure because he is not in charge of bicycles in the guesthouse,” she added.

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