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Tycoon’s gun charges heard

Tan Sok, the father of business tycoon Thong Sarath
Tan Sok, the father of business tycoon Thong Sarath, is escorted though the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday where he was tried for illegal possession of firearms. Heng Chivoan

Tycoon’s gun charges heard

Thong Sarath, the tycoon charged with masterminding the murder of rival businessman Ung Meng Cheu, was tried yesterday at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on separate charges of illegally possessing weapons.

Sarath was joined at the court by his parents, Thong Chamroeun and Keo Sary, who have also been charged with “possessing or transporting weapons and firearms without permission”.

All three pleaded innocent, and urged the court to drop the charges against them.

Judge Khy Chhae told the court that police raids of villas owned by the trio in December – following the murder of Meng Cheu, who was shot dead on a busy Phnom Penh street on November 22 – uncovered bullets and a total of 15 weapons, including four AK-47 assault rifles.

Of those weapons, he said, they were legally licensed to possess only two pistols.

Responding to the judge’s remarks, Sarath, a former Royal Cambodian Armed Forces major general and owner of the Borey 999 development project, said he had been wrongly accused.

“I completely deny this charge against me because I did not possess guns. I did not keep guns in my house,” he said. “I did not know about the guns that were seized by police from my parents’ house.”

Sarath said his bodyguards – who are accused of carrying out Meng Cheu’s murder – were licensed to possess guns.

Following her son’s denials, Sarath’s mother, 55-year-old Sary, said she only recognised the two licensed pistols seized from her home.

“I would like to emphasise that among those weapons seized I recognised only two guns as my own gun and my husband’s gun. We legally requested them from the Ministry of National Defence for our personal use only,” she said.

“I did not do anything against the law,” she added. “I was only the victim of accusation and arrest in this case.”

Defence lawyer Lim Vanna, who represents Chamroeun and Sary, said police had framed his clients by planting the majority of the weapons.

“There is no real proof to show that my clients have possessed and kept those weapons in their houses,” he said. “I would like to ask the court to drop the charges and release them immediately.”

Major General Meas Vanna, a deputy chief of Cabinet at the Ministry of National Defence, said the ministry had licensed nine guns to Sarath in June 2014, and two to his parents.

He said the licences for those 11 weapons were still valid.

A verdict is scheduled to be handed down on June 15.

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