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Bodyguards on trial over baker's death

Bodyguards on trial over baker's death

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Bodyguard Toan Vicheth (left) and suspect Sorn Savoeun dressed in blue prison uniforms (right) leave Phnom Penh Municipal Court following a hearing in a murder case yesterday.

Two members of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit were put on trial at Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday, along with four other suspects, in connection with the murder of a baker last year.

The body of Sim Ratha, who ran the Rotha Angkor Bread Shop in Dangkor district’s Choam Chao commune, was discovered outside the Ministry of Defence on October 15 last year, about 300 metres from his abandoned Lexus.

Sorn Savoeun has been charged with his murder while five others – including bodyguards Mon Sok Kha and Toan Vicheth – are accused of being accomplices.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor, Ek Cheng Huoth, yesterday argued he had enough evidence to implicate all six suspects in the elaborate murder plot, which he said stemmed from a dispute over the lease of the Rotha Ankor Bread Shop.

“According to police reports, investigations, research and the answers of the suspects, there was enough [evidence] to meet the burden of proof to charge that they all had been involved and committed the murder of the bread boss last year, as accused,” he said.

Two of the defendants, Sorn Savoeun and Chan Serey Both, confessed yesterday, telling the court they had acted alone.

“I was the mastermind of this murder. The reason why I decided to kill him was because I lost casino games at Naga World [casino]. I had no money to play the games. I wanted to rob his Lexus to sell it,” Sorn Savoeun testified.

“I decided to shoot him because he had recognised me and he tried to protest against me while I was pointing a gun at him in his car – I was not hired or ordered by anyone to kill him.”

But the prosecution alleges 22-year-old Sorn Savoeun was the perpetrator of a wider murder plot masterminded by his elder sister Sorn Sorphea and her husband Mon Sok Kha, a member of the Prime Minister’s bodyguard unit.

The murder is alleged to stem from an argument over a three-year lease granted to Sim Ratha in 2009 by Sorn Sorphea and Mon Sok Kha, which the couple broke when land prices rose in 2010 in order to lease the property to other clients at a higher price.  

Defendant Chan Serey Both, the prosecution alleges, staked out the victim and flagged him down outside a car wash, allowing Sorn Sorphea to hijack the car and kill the victim with a gun provided by Toan Vichet, also a member of the body guard unit.

The sixth defendant Men Nok, a waiter from a restaurant owned by Sorn Sorphea, is alleged to have been her driver, with a minimal role in the murder.

Sorn Sorphea, Mon Sok Kha, Toan Vichet and Men Nok all professed their innocence at yesterday’s trial.

Mon Sok Kha admitted yesterday that he had had a personal dispute with the victim but denied any involvement in his killing. Toan Vicheth agreed he had sold Sorn Savoeun a gun but said he had no idea it would be used for murder.

Outside of court yesterday, the victim’s wife, Chheak Kunthear, alleged the masterminds of her husband’s murder where Mon Sok Kha and Sorn Sorphea,

“They had ordered their younger brother to murder him. I think that their activities were terrible and cruel,” she said. She demanded US$200,000 in compensation from Sorn Savoeun and $50,000 each from the other suspects, except Men Nok.

Presiding judge, Duch Kimsorn, said a verdict in the caae would be delivered on June 30.

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