Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday continued the murder trial of tycoon Thong Sarath over the slaying of Ung Meng Chue, who was shot dead in front of a fruit shop in the capital in 2014.
Mr Sarath, his former bodyguards Seang Veasna, Meas Sambath and Kuoy Chanthol, and driver Chhun Pheaktra, are currently on trial over the murder.
Originally, five bodyguards were on trial but one of them, Ly Sao, died of AIDS at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital in 2016.
According to the court, Mr Meng Chue, who was chairman of the Shimmex Group, had driven his car to park in front of a fruit store in Chamkar Mon district. After parking his car, Mr Meng Chue walked towards the store to buy fruits.
It said that Mr Sao and Mr Veasna, arrived shortly at the store on a motorbike. Mr Veasna, who was riding on the back of the motorbike then walked behind Mr Meng Chue.
Mr Veasna then allegedly took out his pistol and shot the victim several times, killing him instantly, before fleeing the scene.
Once again, Mr Sarath did not attend his trial due to a serious illness. However, Tuot Lux, his attorney, his four former bodyguards, the driver and 35 other witnesses attended the yesterday’s hearing.
During questioning by the Judges’ Council, Mr Chanthol told the court that he joined Brigade E70 in 2007 as a soldier and began working for Mr Sarath in 2011.
Mr Chanthol said he only knew of Mr Meng Chue after the murder in 2014 as the media began breaking the story.
Mr Chanthol said on November 22, 2014, he was with Mr Sarath, Mr Sao, Mr Sambath and Tuy, nephew of Mr Sarath, at Mr Sarath’s apartment in Meanchey district.
He said they were working from about 7am to 7pm, noting that Mr Veasna did not come to the apartment that day.
“I do not know who killed Mr Meng Chue,” Mr Chanthol said. “On the day of the murder, I did not leave Borey 999 apartment in Chak Angre Krom commune.”
“I was there with Meas Sambath, Ly Sao and Tuy to protect my boss Oknha Thong Sarath, who was also there at the apartment,” he added. “I was there from 7 in the morning until 7 in the evening on November 22, 2014.”
“I don’t know anything. I am innocent, and yet I was arrested and jailed for more than four years now,” he said. “Please, I hope the court will be able to find the truth and give me justice.”
However, Mr Chantol’s answers contradict his December 2014 statement, which said that it was Mr Veasna who shot Mr Meng Chue.
His original statement was read aloud by a court clerk during yesterday’s hearing.
“The reason why I know this is because I was a very close friend of Mr Veasna and he called me after he shot Mr Meng Chue at about 7:30pm,” the clerk said. “When I asked him why, he said he was hired by Oknha Thong Sarath for a lot of money.”
After hearing the statement, Mr Chanthol told the court that his testimony came after he was threatened by police.
Outside of the courtroom yesterday, Mr Veasna told Khmer Times that he did not kill Mr Meng Chue.
“I did not kill Mr Meng Chue. I am not a killer. If I killed him I would have fled. I would not have let police arrest me and jail me like this,” he said. “I am innocent. The police arrested a victim. Please find the truth and give me justice.”
Mr Lux, after yesterday’s trial, told reporters that he has CCTV footage, as well as witnesses, backing his client’s claim that the men were working at the apartment until about 8pm.
He noted that the confessions of Mr Sarath’s former bodyguards were extracted by police under torture.
“In this murder case of Oknha Ung Meng Chue, my client was not involved with it,” Mr Lux said. “He is innocent and remains the only victim here because of the accusation by police.”
Heang Makara, a lawyer representing Mr Meng Chue’s estate, said Kim Chheng, the victim’s wife, is demanding $60 million in reparations for the murder of her husband.
The next hearing will be on February 12.