More than six months after the end of hearings in the high-profile murder case against tycoon and former senior defence official Thong Sarath, a Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge yesterday delayed reaching a verdict, citing a need for further investigation.
A former military general and real estate mogul, Sarath and five bodyguards are accused of planning and carrying out the murder of rival developer Ung Meng Cheu at a fruit stall in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district in November 2014. Sarath and two of his bodyguards – Seang Veasna and Ly Sao, the latter of whom passed away in pretrial detention – are charged with premeditated murder.
Three others – Meas Sambath, Kouy Chanthol and Chhun Chetra – are alleged accomplices.
Despite a verdict having originally been expected in May, Municipal Court Judge Chhun Heng yesterday said he needed additional investigation into the death in custody of Ly Sao and the military background of bodyguard Veasna, while also asking commune police to question more witnesses.
“The court decides to continue to keep the accused in jail awaiting investigation and [further] hearings,” he said.
Court spokesman Ly Sophanna defended the decision, saying there were no time restrictions on issuing a verdict, and the judge needed more time and information to correctly adjudicate the matter.
“It depends on the individual case, which take time to consider and decide correctly. And judges have the right to do more investigation if they think that this case can’t be ruled on,” he told reporters.
Phnom Penh Deputy Police Chief Song Ly said that police had not yet received any requests for further investigation from the judge.
Sarath’s lawyer, Tout Lux, could not be reached yesterday. His client was not present in court because he is being treated at Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital for an illness, Lux told the court.
Nop Lyda, the wife of Meas Sambath, said she was losing hope for justice, given that six months had passed since the trial ended. She insisted that evidence pointed to her husband’s innocence.
“His motorbike was put for pawn during that time and in the videos at Star Mart, there was no picture of him,” she said, referring to CCTV footage of the killing, which the prosecution has said shows Sambath tailing the victim on his motorbike.
Sambath’s lawyer, Kea Eav, welcomed the delay, saying additional investigation would actually help his client.
“I believe that more investigations will help find better evidence to lift the burden off my clients and will be the basis for the judge to sentence correctly,” said Eav, who also represents three other bodyguards in the case.