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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Oknha murder near verdict

Thong Sarath’s former bodyguards Kouy Chanthol (left) and Meas Sambath, seen yesterday outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
Thong Sarath’s former bodyguards Kouy Chanthol (left) and Meas Sambath, seen yesterday outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Hong Menea

Oknha murder near verdict

Prosecutors in the murder trial of business tycoon Thong Sarath for killing rival business man Ung Meng Cheu have demanded $60 million in compensation for the victim’s family, while Sarath’s defence lawyer has accused investigating police of torturing suspects.

The trial is due to conclude today after which the judges go into deliberation. Meng Cheu, who along with his alleged killer held the royally granted title of “oknha”, or tycoon, was gunned down as he exited his Lexus on Sihanouk Boulevard near the Olympic Stadium one evening in November 2014.

“The action was very cruel,” said the plaintiff’s lawyer, Heang Makara. “I would like the court to sentence the accused heavily according to law and demand the compensation of $50 million from Thong Sarath and $10 million from the perpetrator and accomplices.”

Prosecuting lawyers also requested that the testimony of 11 witnesses, all relatives of one of the accused, be thrown out as evidence.

Sarath stands accused of ordering the hit over an alleged debt. His bodyguard Seang Veasna is accused of pulling the trigger. Other Sarath bodyguards Meas Sambath, Chhun Chetra and Kouy Chanthol are also being tried as accomplices. Another, Ly Sao, later died in prison.

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Business tycoon Thong Sarath escorted by officials for his appearance at the Phnom Penh Court in 2015. Pha Lina

Defence lawyer Tuot Lux suggested that Sao died as a result of torture during his interrogation. “Why did Ly Sao die? He must have died because of torture. When he was arrested on December 3, 2014, his health was well. On December 4, when he was brought to court, he needed help with walking. Later on he was brought to hospital and died,” Lux said.

Lux called for all charges to be dropped, accused the police of manipulating the police report, and demanded that any witnesses that contributed to the report also be made to testify in court.

He also again referenced testimony from Meng Cheu’s driver who claimed his employer had never had a dispute with Sarath.

In a moment reminiscent of the OJ Simpson trial, Veasna’s lawyer requested that his client be allowed to try on the outfit that he allegedly wore during the shooting, suggesting that it wouldn’t fit his client.

“Just let him wear to see, there’s nothing wrong with that,” said lawyer Kea Eav.

The judges deliberated for 15 minutes, before deciding the clothes could be shown to the court, but Veasna couldn’t try them on.

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