Fugitive General Arrested, Placed in Prey Sar

Major General Thong Sarath, who has been on the run since being charged with orchestrating the assassination of tycoon Ung Meng Chue in November, has been placed in Prey Sar prison after being apprehended Thursday evening, according to officials, who gave conflicting versions of his arrest.

Eng Sorphea, chief of the Phnom Penh municipal serious crimes police bureau, said that he received Maj. Gen. Sarath at about 9 a.m. on Friday and sent him to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court at about 1 p.m. 

Major General Thong Sarath is led out of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday after being questioned over the November murder of Ung Meng Chue. (Satoshi Takahashi)
Major General Thong Sarath is led out of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday after being questioned over the November murder of Ung Meng Chue. (Satoshi Takahashi)

“Thong Sarath has been sent to Prey Sar prison,” Mr. Sorphea said following the court questioning. “He was arrested by the Ministry of Interior, which executed the court’s order and handed [him] over to the municipal police.”

Ly Sokleng, the investigating judge who questioned the general, could not be reached for comment. Kea Eav, one of Maj. Gen. Sarath’s lawyers, said he was outside Phnom Penh and had no further information.

The brutal shooting of Ung Meng Chue, who was chairman of the Shimmex Group, was executed outside a fruit store in central Phnom Penh and the investigation into his murder has been followed closely by news outlets and on social media.

On December 3, the day that Maj. Gen. Sarath was named as the chief suspect in the case, his parents called a press conference at their lavish Phnom Penh villa to proclaim his innocence and announced that they had sent him into hiding.

Within days, Maj. Gen. Sarath—also a highly successful businessman—was placed on Interpol’s list of most-wanted criminals.

On Friday morning, Lim Sokha Raksmey, acting head of Cambodia’s Interpol bureau, said that Vietnamese authorities had arrested the fugitive Defense Ministry official in Vietnam late Thursday night before handing him over to Cambodian authorities.

“He was arrested in Vietnam and given to the [Interior Ministry’s] internal security department,” Mr. So­kha Raksmey said, referring further questions to National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith, who said the arrest was made on Cambodian soil.

“[Maj. Gen. Sarath] was arrested in Svay Rieng [province] near the border with Vietnam,” Lieu­ten­ant General Chantharith said. “Svay Rieng provincial police made the arrest near Bavet City in collaboration with Cambodian National Police.”

Contacted for clarification, Mr. Sokha Raksmey said his initial statement was based on unverified information.

“I didn’t get any information from Interpol Vietnam or anyone else,” he said. “I just got [information] from the news, same as you.”

In Svay Rieng, authorities were equally clueless about where the arrest was made.

“I have just read fresh news about him and I don’t know anything about that,” deputy provincial police chief Hen Saban said of the arrest.

Bavet City governor Seng Seila said he, too, was not aware of Maj. Gen. Sarath having been apprehended in the city.

Mr. Sorphea, the municipal officer who sent the general to court Friday, said: “I heard that he was hiding in Vietnam.”

Maj. Gen. Sarath joins five of his bodyguards in prison. According to police, the bodyguards confessed to carrying out orders to murder Ung Meng Chue. However, some of the bodyguards later said that their admissions were extracted through force, including one who said his leg was broken by police.

The general’s parents, Thong Chamroeun and Keo Sary, are also in prison on charges of illegal possession of firearms following raids of the family’s Phnom Penh villas in December.

After initially denying bail to the couple, the municipal court abruptly reversed its decision in February, a decision that led to the sacking of court director Ang Mealak­tei after Prime Minister Hun Sen suggested he had accepted a multimillion-dollar bribe to release the pair.

Days after their release, Mr. Chamroeun and Ms. Sary were arrested again for breaking their bail conditions by allegedly attempting to flee the country in an ambulance headed for Vietnam.

roeun@cambodiadaily.com, blomberg@cambodiadaily.com

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