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Two former senior officials to face murder trial this month

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Business tycoon Thong Sarath escorted by officials for his appearance at the Phnom Penh Court in 2015. Pha Lina

Two former senior officials to face murder trial this month

Two high-profile murder cases will be heard at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court this month, deputy court spokesman Suos Vithearandy told The Post on Thursday.

Business tycoon and former senior defence official Thong Sarath stands accused of ordering the murder of a rival developer, Ung Meng Cheu, who held the royally bestowed title “oknha”, in Phnom Penh on November 22, 2014. The case will be heard by the court on January 15-17.

The trial of former Takeo provincial governor Lay Vannak, his brother, former deputy provincial police chief Lay Narith, and two of the alleged accomplices will be heard on January 23.

The brothers are charged with murdering a National Assembly staffer on January 26 last year in Takeo province. He is said to have had an affair with the victim.

Vithearandy said Sarath and five of his bodyguards were charged with the shooting of businessman Meng Cheu in Chamkarmon district’s Tuol Svay Prey commune.

Gunned down

Meng Cheu was gunned down as he exited his Lexus SUV on Sihanouk Boulevard near the Olympic Stadium. The businessman was the chairman of the Shimmex Group, a conglomerate that includes construction, jewellery and import-export companies.

Chilling closed-circuit television footage of the slaying was posted online at the time of the muder. The suspects were detained at Prey Sar prison on April 17, 2015.

Sarath, a former major general in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and president of Meanchey International Investment – with a variety of business interests that include the Borey 999 apartment project – faces charges under Articles 28 and 200 of the Criminal Code for allegedly masterminding Meng Cheu’s murder.

In addition, five of Sarath’s bodyguards were charged as alleged accomplices. Seang Veasna, the alleged gunman, and Ly Sao, the alleged getaway vehicle driver, were charged under Article 200. Sao later died in prison under suspicious circumstances.

Defence lawyer Tuot Lux suggested that Sao died as a result of torture during his interrogation.

“When he was arrested on December 3, 2014, his health was well. On December 4, when he was brought to court, he needed help with walking. Later on he was brought to hospital and died,” Lux said.

Meas Sambath and Kouy Chanthol, who allegedly tailed Meng Cheu’s car before the shooting, were charged under Article 29.

Chhun Chetra, the fifth bodyguard who was arrested in February 2015, allegedly offered his own motorbike to Veasna and Sao and was also charged under Article 29.

Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said the investigation had been time-consuming due to the complexities of the case.

Sarath’s lawyer, Tuot Lux, could not be reached for comment.

On April 3 last year, Phnom Penh Municipal Court investigating judge Koy Sao detained Vannak and Narin for the murder of Chev Sovathana at a rented house in Roka Knong commune’s Psar Takor village in Donkeo district, under Article 199 of the Criminal Code.

Found hanged

Thirty-six-year-old Sovathana was found hanged in her home in what police originally ruled a suicide.

Sovathana, who emceed events for the National Assembly, was an active CPP Youth member and mother of three, Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said at the time.

Choem Vuth, the husband of the victim’s maid, and Men Sakmay, Vannak’s driver, were charged with concealing evidence under Article 532 of the Criminal Code, which carries a prison sentence of between one and three years.

Murder is punishable by 10 to 15 years in prison and can carry a life sentence if found to be premeditated.

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