Police stormed into a house in the capital’s Meanchey district last night, detaining the parents of Thong Sarath, a tycoon who earlier in the day went into hiding to escape questioning over the murder of businessman Ung Meng Cheu.
“Sarath is the ringleader in this murder, but he has fled,” said Chhuon Narin, deputy chief of the municipal police . “His parents will be questioned tonight.”
The detainment of Keo Sary, 56, and her husband, Tan Sok, 65, took the tally of people in custody to six, following the arrest of three of Sarath’s bodyguards on Monday and a fourth yesterday morning.
Sarath, president of Meanchey International Investment, cabinet deputy chief at the Ministry of Defence and one-time member of the government’s Brigade 70 military unit, has business interests that include the Borey 999 apartment projects.
In a bizarre press conference just hours before the raid, Sary defended her son from allegations of involvement in Meng Cheu’s slaying on November 22.
Draped in expensive jewellery, boasting about her family’s wealth and even, at one point, counting banknotes, Sary said her son had gone into hiding to escape arrest over a crime he did not commit.
“We certainly never had any conflict with [Meng Cheu] or his family.… We were not involved in his death,” she said, adding that her family would not be concerned with Meng Cheu’s wealth because it was much smaller than theirs.
Police had visited the family yesterday morning and invited Sarath for questioning, she said.
“I [wouldn’t] let my son” go to the police station, Sary added.
Instead, Sary and her husband went to the municipal police headquarters in their son’s place.
There, they said, municipal police chief Chuon Sovann told them that Sarath would be arrested.
“Sovann got very angry,” Sary said. “He strongly hit the table and kept saying ‘Where is the oknha? There must be an arrest’.”
The couple returned home and warned their son, she said.
“We told him to escape,” she said, adding that a tiger is not as strong if it is locked in a cage. “My son is now in hiding; he is staying with a friend.”
Meng Cheu, chairman of the Shimmex Group, was shot outside of a fruit shop on Sihanouk Boulevard after climbing out of his Lexus SUV. The gunman – pictured on camera firing six bullets into his victim – fled with an accomplice on a motorbike.
Keo Sarith, a Phnom Penh police officer, told the Post on Tuesday that two of the bodyguards arrested on Monday have confessed to being involved in the killing and that police had seized what they believed was the murder weapon.
A fourth bodyguard was arrested yesterday.
Sok, Sarath’s father, named the four as Meas Sambath, 44; Seam Veasna, 27; Kuy Chanthol, 29; and Ly Sao, 30.
Sary also used the press conference to question the police’s right to arrest her son, saying that his title of “oknha” – usually bestowed upon wealthy individuals with close ties to the government – made him immune to a normal police investigation.
“Looking down at my son is like looking down at the King,” she said. “The King has signed to promote my son as an oknha. [They] need to pass through the King and the courts also.… If they abuse the law, how can we [do] business?”
During the press conference, Sary and Sok both threatened to file a lawsuit against Sovann and have him fired.
Sovann could not be reached.