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Cambodian Police Say Car in Thai Activist’s Abduction Had Fake Registration Plates

An activist holds up a picture of Thai dissident Wanchalearm Satsaksit during a rally in front of Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday, June 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
An activist holds up a picture of Thai dissident Wanchalearm Satsaksit during a rally in front of Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday, June 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

The Cambodian Police on Tuesday said a car allegedly involved in the abduction of a pro-democracy Thai activist was using fake vehicle registration plates, with a spokesperson saying the investigation had produced no leads so far.

At the same time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Thailand on Tuesday said it was waiting for Cambodia to complete its investigation into the abduction of Wanchalearm Satsaksit, an activist who fled Thailand after the 2014 coup in Bangkok. The activist was part of the pro-democracy “Red Shirts” faction.

National Police spokesperson Chhay Kimkhoeun said that officials had looked into CCTV footage and found that a car in the video clips was using fake vehicle registration plates, but did not provide any additional details.

He did not clarify what CCTV footage was used to investigate the June 4 abduction or which car he was referring to.

“We also investigated the car plate and it is a fake plate. We are considering whether the news is true or not,” he said. “I can’t tell you what will be next in the [investigation].”

VOA Khmer spoke to eyewitnesses on June 5, who said that Wanchalearm Satsaksit was abducted by three armed men and put into a black Toyota Highlander SUV on June 4. This happened outside his residence, Mekong Gardens, in Chroy Changvar district.

Thai publication Prachatai accessed CCTV footage from that same day, which showed a black SUV speeding out of Mekong Gardens, where eyewitnesses confirmed Wanchalearm Satsaksit lived. A June 5 Human Rights Watch statement also alleged that CCTV footage and local accounts had shown that the Thai activist was abducted from outside his apartment.

Last week, after receiving a diplomatic note from Thailand, Cambodia initiated an investigation into the missing Thai activist.

At the time, Chhay Kimkhoeun said the condominium owner could not recognize Wanchalearm Satsaksit nor had he rented him an apartment in Mekong Gardens. Additionally, he said Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s visa had expired in 2017 and it was unclear if the activist had departed the country illegally.

According to multiple sources, who spoke to VOA Khmer on the condition of anonymity, the Mekong Gardens condominium and service apartment in Chroy Changvar district are owned by Mekong Gardens Co. Ltd.

According to Cambodian business registration data from the Ministry of Commerce, the company has two listed directors - Aing Saing and Lim Lina.

Lim Lina is also a director at the Overseas Cambodian Investment Corporation (OCIC), which is one of Cambodia’s largest construction companies and owned by powerful tycoon Pung Kheav Se.

OCIC has undertaken the development of a satellite city on the peninsula, which has been embroiled in land disputes with local residents. The Mekong Gardens website also lists Canadia Bank Plc. for financing options, a bank again owned by Pung Kheav Se.

An assistant of Pung Kheav Se, who picked up the phone number listed on the Ministry of Commerce registration website, would only confirm that the OCIC chairman owned Mekong Gardens.

“[Pung Kheav Se] doesn’t manage small work, like who stays there, who departs there and who comes in,” said the woman, referring further questions to the condo manager.

Cherdkiart Atthakor, a Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson, told VOA Khmer on Tuesday that the Thai government had been following media reports about the incident involving Wanchalearm Satsaksit “with great concern.”

“However, despite certain details in some media reports, the facts of the circumstances have not yet been verified and established,” he said in an email.

The spokesperson added that the case involved the “safety and well-being” of a Thai citizen, which is why the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh was working with the Cambodian authorities to verify “the facts of the incident” and provide information that could lead to the discovery of Wanchalearm Satsaksit.

Thai publication Prachatai also reported last week that the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances asked the Cambodian government to investigate within two weeks. Cambodian Human Rights Committee Chairman Keo Remy and his deputy, Chin Malin, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Wanchalearm Satsaksit fled the Thai junta after the 2014 coup and is a prominent activist affiliated with the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), also known as the “Red Shirts,” according to a Human Rights Watch statement.

He is wanted for alleged online crimes, the U.S.-based rights group said in its June 5 statement, and the Thai media reports said he is also charged for purportedly violating Thailand’s strict lese-majeste provision.

According to Human Rights Watch, at least eight pro-democracy activists from Thailand had been victims of “enforced disappearances.”

The activist is politically active on social media and has continued to publicly criticize Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government, posting a video criticizing him on June 3, a day before he went missing.