Ex-General’s Bodyguard Retracts Testimony in Murder Trial

Koy Chanthul, a bodyguard charged as an accomplice to the 2014 murder of tycoon Ung Meng Chue, took the stand for the second time on Monday in a trial at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court involving four fellow bodyguard and their boss, former military general Thong Sarath.

Mr. Chanthul went back on earlier testimony that he gave to police and a judge, saying that he had been scared into making false admissions.

Mr. Sarath, 38, once a major general with vast business holdings—from pate to real estate—was arrested last year following a monthslong manhunt. He stands charged with instigating the assassination.

According to police, bodyguards Ly Sao and Sieng Veasna—both charged with premeditated murder—admitted under questioning to driving to the fruit store where Mr. Veasna allegedly shot Ung Meng Chue six times as he exited his Lexus SUV on November 22, 2014. Mr. Veasna insists that he is innocent. Ly Sao died of encephalitis in June.

Mr. Chanthul, Meas Sambath and Chhun Chetra were charged as accomplices after admitting to keeping watch during the murder, according to police.

Their confessions remain the only evidence against the suspects, while defense lawyers say video footage proves that their clients were elsewhere when the crime was carried out. All four surviving bodyguards insist that their confessions were coerced.

Continuing his testimony from the first day of the trial last month, Mr. Chanthul said he was at work at the time of the murder.

“I know nothing about it—I did not join with them,” he said of his fellow bodyguards. “I never confessed to anything, and I did not know about Sieng Veasna’s activities.”

Asked about a telephone call in which Mr. Veasna allegedly told Mr. Chanthul that he had shot Ung Meng Chue, the defendant said he had in fact been on the phone with his sister.

But after a court clerk read out his testimony delivered to an investigating judge—in which he said that Mr. Veasna had twice told him that he had killed the tycoon—he conceded that he had said as much.

“In my testimony…some was the truth and some was not the truth, because I was afraid while I was in handcuffs,” he said. “I put my thumbprint [on the confession] because I was very scared.”

Mr. Sarath has remained absent from the trial due to health problems.

Judge Top Chhun Heng said the trial would continue on August 15.

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