Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday sentenced tycoon Thong Sarath and four of his bodyguards to life in prison for the murder of rival businessman Ung Meng Cheu.
The offence is said to have occurred in November 2014 near the capital’s Olympic market.
“The court finds the accused Thong Sarath, Seang Veasna, Meas Sambath, Kouy Chanthol and Chhum Chetra guilty, and they are sentenced to life imprisonment according to Article 200 of the Criminal Code,” Judge Top Chhun Heng said as he read the verdict to the court.
Thong Sarath was accused of ordering a hit on Meng Cheu over an alleged debt. Veasna was accused of pulling the trigger, while Sambath, Chetra and Chanthol were tried as accomplices. Another defendant, Ly Sao, also a Sarath bodyguard, died in prison while awaiting trial.
The trial was heard over six hearings from January to April this year, with the verdict announced on Tuesday.
Nearly 20 family members of the accused and Sarath’s wife let their feelings known as to the ruling, shouting that the court was unjust.
Teav Thida, Sarath’s wife, said her husband was not involved in the shooting of Meng Cheu.
Judge Chhun Heng adjourned the hearing due to the commotion, while Phnom Penh Municipal Court guards forced the family members from the courtroom.
Outside, along with the other family members and in tears, Thida screamed through the court fence: “Where is the justice for my husband Thong Sarath who did not shoot Ung Meng Cheu.
“On the [day of the murder], my husband and I were together, and my husband and I never knew Ung Meng Cheu.”
She went on to allege that her husband was told by former Phnom Penh Municipal Police chief Chhoun Sovan when he was detained that he had been wrongly arrested.
“My husband told me that [Chhoun Sovan] said at police headquarters on his arrest: ‘Sorry you are wrongly arrested.’ This case is very unjust. Please Prime Minister Hun Sen, make this case have justice. If not, no one can be depended on,” Thida said.
On November 22, 2014, Meng Cheu was gunned down as he was getting out of his Lexus on Sihanouk Boulevard near Olympic market.
After the incident, Sarath fled to Vietnam for months, but was arrested by Vietnamese authorities and returned to Cambodia.
“It was very shocking to hear the ruling of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court because, according to the evidence and witness statements submitted to the court, there was proof enough to release my client from their charges,” Tout Lux, the lawyer for Sarath and the other defendants, told The Post on Tuesday.
He said he would now meet with his clients to ascertain if they wanted to lodge an appeal.
“In principle, if the court wants to sentence someone to a term of imprisonment, they must show grounds. But the court did not read its grounds and ruled to imprison my clients. This is not correct."
“The court should show what evidence was dismissed and announce the grounds for its verdict. But it failed to do so. I find this case very unjust. I will discuss with my clients whether they wish to demand an appeal,” Lux said.