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Thong Sarath
Keo Sary, mother of tycoon Thong Sarath, whose three bodyguards have been arrest for the murder of businessman Ung Meng Cheu, explains that her son has fled into hiding during a press conference on Wednesday. Tat Oudom

Tycoon flees into hiding

Tycoon Thong Sarath, whose three bodyguards were arrested on Monday for the murder of businessman Ung Meng Cheu, has fled into hiding after police summoned him for questioning, Sarath’s parents said today.

In a bizarre press conference that Sarath had organised and was meant to attend, his mother, Keo Sary, 56, announced that the tycoon was hiding out in fear of being arrested for a crime he “was not involved” in.

Police, she said, had visited the family and invited Sarath for questioning at Phnom Penh municipal police headquarters.

“I [wouldn’t] let my son [go to the police station],” she said.

A fourth bodyguard, who was also summoned, appeared for questioning and was detained, while Sary and her husband went to police headquarters in their son’s place.

It was there, Sary said, that Phnom Penh municipal police chief Chuon Sovann told them that Sarath, who holds the title oknha (which roughly translates to tycoon and is usually bestowed upon wealth individuals with close ties to the government), would be arrested.

The couple returned home and told Sarath to flee, 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 six times outside a fruit shop on Sihanouk Boulevard after climbing out of his Lexus on the evening of November 22. The gunman – pictured on camera firing six bullets into his victim – fled with an accomplice on a motorbike.

Sary said her family had never met Meng Cheu.

“We’ve certainly never had any conflict with him or his family before . . . We were not involved in his death,” she said.

Three of Sarath’s bodyguards were arrested in the tycoon’s presence in Phnom Penh on Monday and taken in for questioning over the fatal shooting. A police officer has said that two of them have confessed to being involved in the murder.

Sarath, president of Meanchey International Investment and a military official, has a number of business interests, including the Borey 999 apartment projects.

Police and court officials have not been available for comment.

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