In the first verdict handed down in the case against Major General Thong Sarath, who stands accused of masterminding a fellow tycoon’s assassination, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday sentenced him and one of his bodyguards to 30 months in jail for illegal weapons possession. His parents were sentenced to two years on the same charge.
Maj. Gen. Sarath spent five months on the run after being accused of planning the murder of businessman Ung Meng Chue in November. Police raided his family’s Phnom Penh villas in December while investigating the murder.
Police confiscated a cache of illegal weapons during the raids and arrested Maj. Gen. Sarath’s parents, Keo Sary and Thong Chamroeun, who said they helped their son go into hiding upon learning that he was wanted. Maj. Gen. Sarath was finally apprehended in April near Bavet City along the border with Vietnam—though officials differed on which side he was arrested on.
Taing Sok, one of the general’s bodyguards, evaded arrest in December and remains at large. He was sentenced in absentia Monday.
“The court decides to sentence Keo Sary and Thong Chamroeun to two years each and fine them 6 million riel [about $1,500] each,” Presiding Judge Khy Chhai told the courtroom. “Secondly, the court decides to sentence Thong Sarath and Taing Sok to two and a half years in jail and fine them 6 million riel each for illegal possession of weapons.”
Ms. Sary was the only defendant present in court for Monday’s verdict. During the trial in May, she claimed the cache of 11 weapons belonged to her son’s bodyguards and were only in her home for storage.
After the verdict was read out, Ms. Sary refused to answer questions.
Lim Vanna, a lawyer for Ms. Sary and Mr. Chamroeun, said he would review the decision and discuss the possibility of appealing it with his clients. “My client Thong Chamroeun did not receive this verdict yet,” he said, noting Mr. Chamroeun did not appear in court due to ill health. “It is important whether my clients agree or do not agree with the verdict. If my clients ask me to appeal, we will appeal.”
Chhun Vinita, Maj. Gen. Sarath’s lawyer, was unsure if he would appeal the verdict and did not explain his client’s absence from court.
“I do not know whether my client will appeal or not,” he said, before offering his own opinion. “Based on the case as a whole, I don’t think there were enough elements of a crime to inculpate my client, so if he asks me to appeal, I will appeal.”
Maj. Gen. Sarath is still facing charges of premeditated murder for allegedly ordering his bodyguards to carry out the murder of Ung Meng Chue, who was shot repeatedly outside a fruit store in Chamkar Mon district. Five of his bodyguards are being held in provisional detention for their suspected involvement.
Former Phnom Penh Municipal Court director Ang Mealaktei was removed from his position in February under suspicion that Maj. Gen. Sarath’s parents paid a bribe to the court to be released on bail. They were arrested again in February while attempting to flee to Vietnam in an ambulance, police said.