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Fugitive tycoon charged with masterminding hit

Thong Sarath, the tycoon accused by police of masterminding the public slaying of another businessman last month, was yesterday charged in absentia at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court with instigating premeditated murder.

While Sarath remains on the run, his four bodyguards who allegedly killed Shimmex Group chairman Ung Meng Cheu on November 22 were also formally charged yesterday. All five men face life in prison if convicted.

Investigating Judge Ly Sokleng said the bodyguards had been sent to Prey Sar prison. Police continue to look for Sarath, though he is rumoured to have fled to Vietnam.

Court deputy prosecutor Keo Socheat said that Sarath, the president of Meanchey International Investment and a Defence Ministry official, had been charged with instigating premeditated murder.

Bodyguards Seang Veasna and Ly Sao have been charged with premeditated murder, while Meas Sambath and Kouy Chanthol have been charged as accomplices to premeditated murder, he said.

Although police claim the men have confessed to killing Meng Cheu, the bodyguards yesterday revealed more details of alleged torture inflicted on them in custody to “coerce” the confessions, while pleading their innocence.

Sao, 43, said that Sarath and the four men had been eating dinner at a restaurant in Chamkarmon district when the killing occurred.

“The police beat and forced me to a make thumbprint on the confession statement,” he said.

Veasna gave a more graphic account. “During questioning, the police kicked and beat me. They laid me down on the floor and stomped and jumped on my chest until I passed out,” he said. “I thought that if I did not confess I would die.”

But Ka Kam, a police officer who conducted the questioning, flatly denied the accusations, citing alleged video footage from Meng Cheu’s Lexus showing the men following and later killing him.

National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith said yesterday that police continued to search for Sarath. His parents, Keo Sary and Tan Sok, who were arrested on Wednesday after announcing to the media that they had sent their son into hiding, remain in detention, though they have not been charged.

Meng Cheu was gunned down outside a fruit shop on Sihanouk Boulevard. Police believe that he and Sarath, who both hold the royally bestowed title of oknha, likely had a business dispute.



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