The owners of an unfinished building that collapsed last week, killing 36 people and injuring 23 others, have been charged with manslaughter and causing injury and released on bail, a court spokesman said on Tuesday.
The seven-story building fell in Kep city on Friday after the owners had started building in March without a license and were only permitted in August to build up to six stories, a provincial land management official told VOD on Monday.
Building owners Ek Sarun and his wife Chhiv Sothy were sent to the Kampot Provincial Court on Sunday afternoon. The couple were charged with manslaughter and causing involuntary bodily harm and released on bail on Monday, court spokesman Mann Boreth said.
Manslaughter is punishable by one to three years in prison while the injury charge carries a punishment of six months to two years in prison.
Boreth declined to explain why the couple was given bail, saying it was the judge’s decision. However, he said they were not allowed to leave the country and had to appear when the court summoned them.
“The court just decided not to detain them but they are not free,” he said.
In June, 28 people were killed and 26 others injured after an under-construction, seven-story building in Sihanoukville collapsed on top of them. The Preah Sihanouk provincial governor resigned from his position following the collapse and was reassigned to another government role a few days later.
After the incident, the government created a committee to inspect construction sites across the country and stop illegal building that did not follow safety standards.
Moeun Tola, executive director of labor rights group Central, pointed out that the legal measures against the owners of the buildings in Kep and Preah Sihanouk provinces were different.
“Not detaining the owners of the building is a strange thing,” Tola said.
“We saw that it is the same seven-story building and killed people the same way, and actually, more people died in Kep. The owner of the building [in Preah Sihanouk] was imprisoned while the owners of this building [in Kep] were not. That will make the public have doubts,” he said.
Tola called for a transparent investigation to find and punish those involved and find justice for the victims.
Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager for human rights organization Licadho, also urged the authorities to take legal action against those responsible for the building collapse, without exception.
“If we don’t take legal action, or any preventative action, those involved will not pay attention. They will not care much about the tragedy,” Sam Ath said.
“So building collapses will continue to happen because we did not properly uphold the law and building standards,” he added. “So people may continue to suffer.”