Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday continued the trial of tycoon Thong Sarath, a former two-star general, and four of his bodyguards over the murder of fellow tycoon Ung Meng Chue in 2014.
The continuation followed hearings that ended in April 2017, when the court ordered police to further investigate the case involving Mr Sarath and five bodyguards, one of whom has since died, including reviewing CCTV footage and interviewing other witnesses, before it issued a verdict.
Mr Sarath was not in court yesterday for the hearing due to a serious illness, but the other four were present.
Presiding Judge Top Chhunheng identified the bodyguards as Ly Sao, 43, who died of AIDS at Khmer-Russian Hospital on June 17, 2016, Seang Veasna, 45, Meas Sambath, 28, and Kouy Chanthol, 30, all soldiers with the E70 Brigade, and Chhun Pheaktra, 48, Mr Sarath’s driver.
Judge Chhunheng said that Mr Sarath, who is alleged to be the mastermind of the murder, was charged with initiating premeditated murder while Mr Veasna and Mr Sao were charged with premeditated murder and Mr Chanthol, Mr Sambath and Mr Pheaktra with conspiracy to premeditated murder.
“They all are facing a life sentence each if convicted according to their charges,” he said.
Judge Chhunheng said that at about 7 pm on November 22, 2014, Mr Meng Chue, 53, the chairman of the Shimmex Group, had driven his car to park in front of a fruit store in Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district.
He said that after parking the car, the victim walked towards the store to buy fruits.
Judge Chhunheng said that while Mr Meng Chue was walking towards the store, Mr Sao drove a motorbike with Mr Veasna seated behind and parked it near the victim’s car.
“After getting off the motorbike, Mr Veasna took out a pistol from his waistband and walked towards Mr Meng Chue,” he said. “He fired several bullets at the victim, killing him instantly.”
“After shooting the victim Mr Veasna ran back to the motorbike and both the accused fled the scene,” Judge Chhunheng added.
He noted that Mr Veasna, Mr Sao, Mr Chanthol and Mr Sambath were later arrested on December 1, 2014.
“After his arrest, Mr Veasna confessed to police that he was hired by Mr Sarath to kill Mr Meng Chue,” Judge Chhunheng said. “He said that Mr Sarath had promised him an apartment and some money to do the job.”
He added that based on Mr Veasna’s confessions, police later arrested Mr Pheaktra on February 15, 2015 and Mr Sarath on April 16, 2015.
During the trial in April 2017, Mr Sarath’s defence lawyer Tout Lux said that his client was innocent and had no conflict with the victim.
“There is no real proof to show my client was involved in the murder,” he said. “I would like to ask the court to drop the charges and release him.”
The trial will continue today.