Over two years have passed since a brutal killing shocked the relaxed residents of Otres. With the prime suspect recently released without charge and the investigation seemingly closed in both Cambodia and Russia, will we ever know who murdered Denis Goncharov?
When Denis Goncharov’s butchered body was discovered floating in a shallow ditch some 400m from Sihanoukville’s popular Otres Beach on July 19 2015, police quickly identified their prime suspect – the man’s best friend and business partner, Dmitry Sidorov.
The details of this horrific killing shocked the coastal community that was already reeling from a recent surge in violent crime and unrest linked to feuding Russian gangs.
Goncharov had been the victim of a frenzied knife attack that allegedly began while he was still riding his motorcycle. Police allege that the attacker was his passenger, and began knifing him as they travelled together.
Prime Suspect Flees Cambodia
The 29-year-old IT expert was stabbed and slashed 34 times in the back, before the killer also hacked at his throat in what one police officer said was an attempt to decapitate the victim.
Police in Sihanoukville immediately began to focus their investigation on Goncharov’s long-time friend and new business associate, Sidorov.
Some friends and relatives said they had become involved in a bitter business dispute and had been taking drugs together the night of the murder. An arrest warrant was issued and the hunt was on.
The prime suspect, however, acted even swifter than the cops. Within hours he had fled to Phnom Penh, and then to the Thai capital Bangkok, before catching a flight and returning home to Russia.
Cambodian authorities issued an Interpol arrest warrant for their fugitive and Russian police later captured and remanded the suspect in St. Petersburg on suspicion of murder.
Released Without Charge in Russia
Sidorov would be held in a Russian prison in his home city of Petrozavodsk facing murder charges for just over a year.
In the spring of 2017, he is released without charge as Russian prosecutors admit that the case against him has fallen apart.
With Sidorov’s release in Russia, and no other suspects in Cambodia, the killer who butchered Denis Goncharov in Sihanoukville seemingly remains free.
According to reports and statements from prosecutors and investigators in Russia, authorities had worked for over a year to build a case for conviction against Sidorov, but they allege that Cambodian authorities had failed to respond to all of their questions and requests for material linked to the case.
Back in 2015, Cambodian police admitted that they didn’t even know that Sidorov had been arrested in Russia. Some senior police officials couldn’t even remember the names of the victim and his alleged attacker.
According to Dmitry Sidorov, he and Goncharov had been best friends since school and he was shocked and disturbed to learn of his murder upon his return to his motherland. Upon discovering he was a prime suspect and being hunted by police, he was appalled.
His flights to Thailand and later to Russia on the day Goncharov’s body would be found had always been planned, he says, although it’s not known if he showed evidence of this to prosecutors.
Sidorov says that his family and friends were well aware of his travel plans and the theory that he had quickly decided to flee the country as Cambodian police hunted him is false.
He says that the two close friends spent the evening of July 18 together, drinking and smoking marijuana on Otres beach. He admits they shared a motorcycle on the way there, but says that they had parted ways on different motorcycles that evening. This claim, like many of Sidorov’s, also hasn’t been independently verified.
The following morning, attempting to locate his friend to say goodbye, Sidorov claims that Goncharov couldn’t be located. With a flight to catch, he left Sihanoukville just as a gruesome discovery was made and a murder investigation started.
Sidorov and his family and supporters argue that there were no business disagreements between the two of them, and no animosity at all that could trigger such a violent event. They also argue that there is no real evidence of his guilt, an argument that Russian authorities seemed to eventually agree with.
The family of Goncharov meanwhile – including his Chinese widow who lived with the two men in Cambodia – continue to allege that Sidorov had the motive and means to butcher his oldest friend, was also the last person to see him alive and fled the country for the safety of Russia after committing the horrific murder.
Whatever the truth in this murder case, with Sidorov released without charge, the prosecution abandoned in Russia and no open investigation in Cambodia, the killer of Denis Goncharov remains free and justice continues to elude his family and friends.
Jack Laurenson is a British writer and editor who previously lived in Cambodia and reported for a national newspaper here. He’s now based in Ukraine. He has posted the first part of this story on his new blog, here: