Tycoon Thong Sarath has been charged with premeditated murder and possession of weapons by a court in Phnom Penh after being arrested in a joint operation with Cambodian and Vietnamese police on Thursday over the killing of Shimmex Group owner Ung Meng Cheu.
Seng Darith, an officer with Phnom Penh’s Serious Crimes Bureau, said the tycoon was charged on Friday after he was questioned at the Ministry of Interior following his arrest in Ho Chi Minh City on Thursday night.
“He was charged by the court with two charges after he was questioned by the investigative judge at Phnom Penh Municipal Court for about four hours,” he said, adding that the charges of “initiating a premeditated murder and possession or transport of weapons and firearms without permission” could carry a life sentence if he is found guilty.
“He has been sent to temporary detention at Prey Sar prison awaiting further investigation and pretrial [questioning] in the future,” Darith added.
The former Royal Cambodian Armed Forces major general and president of the Meanchey International Investment Company went into hiding following the November 22 shooting on a busy Phnom Penh street.
Sarath was promptly accused of masterminding the gangland-style killing of his business rival, and in the following days five of his bodyguards were arrested.
Sarath’s parents, Keo Sary and Thong Chamroeun, promptly held a bizarre press conference where they boasted to reporters that they had told their son “to escape”.
From hiding, Sarath has published online a series of videos in which he appealed to Prime Minister Hun Sen to intervene in his case. Sary and Chamroeun were arrested shortly afterwards and face illegal weapons charges stemming from police raids on properties owned by the family.
The couple were granted bail by Phnom Penh Municipal Court and attempted to flee the country, presumably to meet their son in Vietnam, but were caught by authorities near the border and are now also in Prey Sar
prison. The couple, however, claimed they were only travelling to Vietnam for a routine medical exam.
Kea Eav, Sarath’s defence lawyer, said his client had denied the charges under questioning and claimed the tycoon would have returned to face the charges of his own accord if he had not been tracked down.
“He did not confess … because he did not commit any wrongdoing as he is accused,” Eav said. “He came to confront his accusers in court, because if he was still in hiding he could not put the accusations to rest.”
Investigative judge Ly Sokleng could not be reached for comment yesterday.