After serving nearly five years behind bars, the men convicted of killing Okhna Ung Meng Cheu in 2014 were temporarily released under court-supervised bail, said an Appeal Court press release dated Wednesday and obtained by The Post on Thursday.
Thong Sarath and three of his bodyguards – Kuoy Chanthol, Meas Sambath and Khun Chetra – were sentenced to life in prison for gunning down Meng Cheu outside a fruit shop near the capital’s Olympic Stadium.
The four are forbidden from leaving Cambodia without permission from the court and changing their address, according to the bail conditions stipulated in the press release. They are required to report to Phnom Penh municipal police in the first week of every month as well as appear before the court whenever summoned.
“Among the four convicts, there are those in poor health. They should be cared for by specialist doctors,” the press release stated. The Appeal Court’s ruling was based on Article 38 of the Constitution – pertaining to prisoner rights – and Articles 203, 205, 220, 223, 226, 307, 387 and 396 of the Criminal Code, it added.
The court had heard the case of each appellant five times over the five years of their incarceration, the press release said. After individual questioning, the trial chamber ruled to re-investigate the case, prompting their lawyer to request bail.
“The launch of an additional investigation could take much time as this case is complex. At the same time, the amount of evidence related to those who applied for bail remains limited.
“The trial chamber ruled to grant them temporary bail because there is nothing meriting temporary detention under Article 205 of the Criminal Code,” the press release said.
Meng Cheu’s highly publicised murder case originally saw six men, including Sarath, in court charged with “initiating premeditated murder” under Articles of 28 and 200 of the Criminal Code.
Sieng Veasna, one of Sarath’s bodyguards, was found guilty of “premeditated murder” under Article 200 of the Criminal Code after the court ruled that he was guilty of firing the fatal shot. Veasna was not granted bail on Wednesday.
Chanthol, Sambath, Chetra and Ly Sao were charged with “collusion in premeditated murder” as accomplices under Articles of 29 and 200 of the Criminal Code.
Sao died at Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital while under police custody on March 26.
“The Appeal Court did not consider Seang Veasna’s case as his lawyer did not submit a request for bail in writing. Besides, he confessed in court that he shot the victim, Oknha Ung Meng Cheu,” Appeal Court spokesman Touch Tharith told The Post on Thursday.
Sarath’s defence lawyer Tuot Luch told The Post that his client had been wrongfully blamed by Veasna for masterminding the hit on Meng Cheu.
Asked whether Sarath would seek compensation from the court if the re-investigation found that he had been wrongfully convicted, his lawyer replied: “Justice is that the court releases my client.”