Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday concluded the trial of tycoon Thong Sarath and his four bodyguards who are accused of killing Ung Meng Chue in front of a fruit shop in 2014.
Mr Sarath and bodyguards Seang Veasna, Ly Sao, Meas Sambath, Kouy Chanthol, and Chhun Pheaktra are accused of being involved in the murder.
Mr Sarath was charged with initiating premeditated murder, while Mr Veasna and Mr Sao, who died of AIDS in 2016, were charged with premeditated murder.
Mr Chanthol, Mr, Chetra, Mr Sambath and Mr Pheaktra were charged with being an accomplice to premeditated murder. All face a life sentence if convicted.
Mr Sarath, who is living with high blood pressure and is prone to heart attacks, had not attended the trial since it began earlier this year.
Mr Veasna, who is accused of being the gunman, last week denied that he was involved in the shooting.
Deputy prosecutor Hing Bunthan said during his closing remark that Mr Sarath and his bodyguards were guilty on all charges.
Mr Bunthan said based on a police report, as well as the confessions of Mr Veasna and Mr Sao during police questioning, Mr Sarath was the mastermind behind the murder.
He said that Mr Sarath ordered all four bodyguards to kill the victim on the promise of an apartment and cash.
“To prepare for the plot to kill the victim, Mr Pheaktra lent his motorbike to Mr Veasna and Mr Sao who then took it to carry out the order,” Mr Bunthan said. “Mr Sao had been the driver of Mr Pheaktra’s motorbike and Mr Veasna was riding passenger as they followed the victim in his car.”
“As the victim got out of his car and walked towards the fruit shop in Tuol Svay Prey II commune, Mr Veasna got off the motorbike, withdrew his pistol from his waist, walked behind the victim and fired several bullets into him,” he added. “After killing the victim, Mr Veasna and Mr Sao, who was waiting nearby, fled the scene. Mr Chanthol and Mr Sambath were on a seperate motorbike in order to serve as lookouts and cover Mr Veasna and Mr Sao.”
Defence lawyer Tuot Lux told the court that Mr Sarath denies all the accusations.
Mr Lux said Mr Sarath did not know the victim, noting that the two had never met or had prior quarrels.
He reiterated that Mr Sarath, Mr Sambath and Mr Chanthol were working in Mr Sarath’s Borey 999 apartment in Meanchey district when the crime occurred.
“Mr Sarath was always a good investor. He did not know Mr Meng Chue and had never met him either,” Mr Lux said. “There’s no reason why Mr Sarath would have Mr Meng Chue killed.”
“There is no real proof that my client is connected to the victim’s murder as police and the court had charged,” he added. “I would like to ask the Judge’s Council to drop his charges and release him.”
Kea Eav, defence lawyer for the bodyguards, told the court that initial confessions made by Mr Veasna and Mr Sao were made under torture and that Mr Veasna has since changed his testimony.
Mr Eav said that during the time of the murder, Mr Veasna had been with his wife and mother-in-law in Kampong Chhnang province and that the three only returned to Phnom Penh at about 8.30pm, after the murder was committed.
“My clients had already denied and annulled their testimonies because they were beaten and tortured for confessions,” he said. “The court cannot use forced confessions to punish my clients.”
“Therefore, I would like to request the Judges Council to drop the charges and release them from prison so they can meet and support their families,” Mr Eav said.
Heang Makara, defence lawyer of the victim’s widow Kim Chheng, said the plaintiff is demanding $50 million from Mr Sarath and another $10 million from each bodyguard.
“My client demands the court punish them in accordance with the law,” Mr Makara said.
A verdict is due on March 26.