Four bodyguards of Major General Thong Sarath, a wealthy tycoon and deputy chief of cabinet at the Ministry of Defence, were charged yesterday at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court with the “intentional murder” of businessman Ung Meng Cheu.
The charges came as police continued to search for Sarath, who they described earlier this week as the “ringleader” behind the murder.
Keo Socheath, deputy prosecutor at the municipal court, told the Post that he had “decided to charge” the four bodyguards; Seang Veasna, Ly Sao, Meas Sambath, and Kouy Chanthol; and had “transferred the case to the investigating judge”.
He declined to comment further about the case.
Meng Cheu, chairman of the Shimmex Group, was shot outside of a fruit shop on the capital’s Sihanouk Boulevard on November 22. The gunman – caught on camera firing six bullets into his victim – fled with an accomplice on a motorbike.
On Monday, three of Sarath’s bodyguards were arrested in connection with the murder. A fourth was arrested on Wednesday.
A police officer who questioned the suspects said, on condition of anonymity, that they had all confessed to killing Meng Cheu after police produced images recorded by cameras in the victim’s Lexus allegedly showing them following and later killing him.
“They said that they killed the victim on the order of their boss, Oknha Thong Sarath, and said it was in exchange for receiving a twin villa and a sum of money each,” the official said. “But they did not receive them from the tycoon yet,” he added.
According to the police officer, “after killing the victim, they drove their motorbikes to leave them at their boss’ villa in Meanchey district’s Chak Angre Krom commune. They then undressed and threw their clothes into the Tonle Bassac river along with a gun that was used to shoot the victim.”
However, the suspects yesterday claimed that their confessions had been coerced.
Thirty-year-old Sao, also known as Vy, who stands accused of driving the killer to Meng Cheu, swore his innocence yesterday.
“Police arrested me. They seriously beat me and broke my right leg, and forced me to confess to the crime,” Sao said outside the courtroom, adding that he had played no part in the murder.
Another suspect, 27-year-old Sambath, shouted an identical claim as he left the courtroom and was forced into a police car.
The trial came after more arrests on Wednesday evening, when police raided one of Sarath’s villas in Meanchey district, arresting 10 people, including his multiple wives, parents and five more bodyguards.
Meas Chanpiseth, deputy prosecutor at the municipal court, said that they had suspected that Sarath was a drug trafficker, but when police “raided his house on Wednesday night, we only seized [eight] guns”.
Sarath is president of Meanchey International Investment and has business interests that include the Borey 999 apartment projects.
Sarath remained at large at the time of print. A police official who asked not to be named said he had escaped to Vietnam.
Chanpiseth said that an official court warrant had not been issued for the tycoon’s arrest, but said the “prosecutor has directly ordered all involved competent authorities to find him and bring him for questioning”.
Sarath’s parents, who were arrested on Wednesday after holding a press conference during which they announced that they had sent their son into hiding, remained in detention yesterday evening, he said.
Chanpiseth added that the couple – Keo Sary, 56, and her husband, Tan Sok, 65 – were accused of “obstructing police from fulfilling their duty and keeping weapons without authorisation”.