A military general was on Friday found guilty of interfering in investigations into the roadside assassination of businessman Ung Meng Chue in November last year, but saw his sentence slashed significantly and will walk free in less than a month.
Brigadier General Pech Prum Mony, who worked as a bodyguard for Ang Mealaktei, the disgraced former Phnom Penh Municipal Court director who is awaiting trial on corruption charges, admitted that he “infiltrated” the family of Thong Sarath, a Defense Ministry official who stands charged with orchestrating the murder, but claimed he only did so on the orders of his boss and other powerful figures.
Military personnel, such as Brig. Gen. Prum Mony, are not authorized to participate in investigations into criminal cases. Article 609 of the criminal code states that unlawful interference in the discharge of public functions is punishable by between one and three years in prison.
But at the municipal court on Friday, Presiding Judge Veng Hourt announced that while the defendant had been found guilty of the crime, he would serve a far shorter sentence.
“We decided to imprison Pech Prum Mony for 18 months, but he is only required to serve 10 months,” the judge said, adding that the general would also be fined 2 million riel, or about $500. He gave no explanation for the reduced sentence, which would see Brig. Gen. Prum Mony freed next month, as he has been in detention since his arrest in February.
Contacted later by telephone, Judge Hourt declined to explain the court’s leniency.
“You don’t need to know,” he said. “This is an internal affair.”
Brig. Gen. Prum Mony, who was seconded from Preah Vihear province at the request of Mr. Mealaktei, was also acquitted on Friday of a second charge: the unauthorized use of vehicles carrying military or police insignia.
“The court has decided there is no evidence to prove he used RCAF [Royal Cambodian Armed Forces] vehicles without permission,” Judge Hourt said.
Brig. Gen. Prum Mony was arrested shortly after Mr. Mealaktei was removed as Phnom Penh’s top judge in February, apparently in response to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s suggestion a day earlier that the court director had solicited a multimillion-dollar bribe to release from prison the parents of Major General Sarath, who were arrested over a cache of illegal weapons seized during raids on the family’s villas in December.
The parents, Keo Sary and Thong Chamroeun, were later rearrested while attempting to flee to Vietnam in a private ambulance and are currently serving two-year jail terms.
On the first day of his trial in September, Brig. Gen. Prum Mony told the court that he had chauffeured Mr. Mealaktei and then-deputy municipal police chief Chuon Narin to the villas, and that Major General Narin had called him to join the search. He said he had then asked Om Yentieng, head of the government’s Anti-Corruption Unit, for clarification of the orders, and that Mr. Yentieng “ordered me to search.”
Mr. Mealaktei, who was given a position at the Justice Ministry following his ouster, has been at the Kandal Provincial Prison since August awaiting trial on embezzlement charges for allegedly confiscating an Audi SUV from a convicted drug dealer and giving it to his son, a deputy police chief in Phnom Penh’s Prampi Makara district.
At the municipal court on Friday, Pheng Sideth, a lawyer for Brig. Gen. Prum Mony, argued that even the shortened, 10-month sentence was an injustice, as the general had only been acting on the orders of Mr. Mealaktei.
“This was a request, and permission was given by Meas Sophea and Hing Bun Heang,” Mr. Sideth said, referring to the deputy RCAF commander in charge of infantry and the head of the Prime Minister Bodyguard Unit, respectively.
“He holds the rank of one-star general. Do you think he wanted to be a bodyguard for anyone?”