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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Three arrested in tycoon’s murder

Police and members of the public look at numbered bullet shells at the scene of a fatal shooting in Phnom Penh
Police and members of the public look at numbered bullet shells at the scene of a shooting last month in Phnom Penh that claimed the life of a wealthy business tycoon. Hong Menea

Three arrested in tycoon’s murder

Three bodyguards of a tycoon and military major general were arrested yesterday and questioned over last month’s murder of businessman Ung Meng Cheu, police said.

In Bora, chief of the Ministry of Interior’s penal police department, would not name the three men, but said they worked for Thong Sarath, who is president of Meanchey International Investment and has been a high-ranking official within the government’s notorious Brigade 70 military unit.

“They were arrested by municipal penal police, suspected of murdering Oknha Ung Meng Cheu last month,” Bora said yesterday, using a royally bestowed title awarded for financial contributions to the community. “They have been sent to municipal police headquarters for questioning. Our officers are working on the case.”

Meng Cheu, chairman of the Shimmex Group, was gunned down outside a fruit shop on Sihanouk Boulevard in the capital’s Chamkarmon district on November 22. His brutal slaying – he was shot six times – was captured on security camera. Police have said they believe the murder was likely the result of a business dispute and have been searching for the gunman and an accomplice, who both escaped on a motorbike.

Phnom Penh municipal police deputy chief Chuon Narin confirmed the three suspects had been arrested outside the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital in Phnom Penh at about 11:15am.

Sarath, who was with his bodyguards at the time, had also gone to the police station but was not questioned, Narin added.

“Our expert officers are still questioning [the bodyguards],” he said. “I cannot make any more comment about this.”

They remained in custody at press time yesterday evening.

While it is not clear how many bodyguards Sarath has, some of them have made headlines in the past for violent behaviour.

In 2012, one was accused of pointing a pistol at the head of an opponent during a card game in the capital’s Dangkor district. The dispute was over 1,500 riel ($0.38) that the alleged victim had lost and could not afford to pay.

Another of Sarath’s bodyguards was arrested in September last year for getting drunk and firing his gun outside a restaurant in Takeo province. That bodyguard, police said at the time, was also a military officer with Brigade 70, where he worked under Sarath.

The brigade has strong ties to Prime Minister Hun Sen and has been accused of political assassinations and other illegal acts.

Sarath’s company oversees the group of Borey 999 development projects around Phnom Penh.

Sarath himself has been in disputes over land with villagers in Meanchey district’s Boeung Tompun commune. Elsewhere in that district, the 999 company was linked to a construction site on which a labourer was killed in an accident in August last year.

The company paid funeral costs for the victim before distancing itself from the matter, saying that it did not own the site and had offered the money only out of sympathy.

Sarath and representatives from his company could not be reached yesterday.

On November 24, a Phnom Penh Municipal Court official told the Post that Meng Cheu had been involved in a number of court cases, at least one of which related to a land dispute.

Mao Chanrith, general manager of Shimmex Group’s Seng Hong Heng Import & Export Company, said yesterday that he had no information from the police about arrests.

“I feel great sadness at Meng Cheu’s death.… If they have not arrested the real killers yet, I encourage them to keep searching,” he said.

Meng Cheu’s son-in-law, who identified himself only as Henry, declined to comment.

“I am worried about my security. I cannot say anything to the media,” he said.

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