The Phnom Penh Municipal Court began proceedings Thursday against four bodyguards accused of murdering a prominent businessman in Phnom Penh last month on the orders of their boss, a senior Defense Ministry official, who remains at large.
Major General Thong Sarath, a deputy cabinet chief at the Ministry of Defense, is alleged to have instructed his bodyguards to murder Shimmex Group chairman Ung Meng Chue, who was gunned down outside a fruit store in Chamkar Mon district on the evening of November 22.
Three of the bodyguards were arrested on Monday, while the fourth was detained by police after presenting himself at Phnom Penh Municipal Police headquarters on Wednesday morning. The general’s parents were also taken into police custody and at least six guns were seized during the operation.
A post on the National Police website identifies the four men as Sieng Veasna, 44, the gunman; Ly Sao, 28, the getaway driver; and accomplices Meas Sambath, 27, and Koy Chanthul, 29.
“We have all the evidence and [the bodyguards] have confessed,” deputy municipal police chief Chuon Narin told reporters at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday.
Moments earlier, officers escorted the four men from a police van to deputy municipal prosecutor Keo Socheat’s office for questioning.
“I am not the killer,” Mr. Veasna said as he exited the van.
Mr. Sao, the alleged getaway driver, limped out of the vehicle with the aid of an officer.
“Police broke my leg,” he said. “I want to see a doctor to treat my leg.”
According to the National Police website, Mr. Veasna and Mr. Sao drove a motorbike to the fruit shop in Chamkar Mon district, where Mr. Veasna shot Ung Meng Chue six times in the torso after the tycoon stepped out of his Lexus SUV.
Mr. Sambath and Mr. Chanthul hung back on a second motorbike in case the first two bodyguards needed protection, the website says. After the murder, Mr. Chanthul returned to the scene to make sure the victim was dead, it says.
“Deputy Phnom Penh municipal prosecutor Keo Socheat has not yet laid official charges against the four suspects because the court has not yet finished questioning them,” the website says.
“The four suspects were sent for detention at Phnom Penh municipal police headquarters to await further questioning [today].”
Brigadier General Narin said by telephone Thursday municipal police requested that the court issue an arrest warrant for Maj. Gen. Sarath, who evaded capture Wednesday night.
Brig. Gen. Narin declined to say whether police had any leads on the whereabouts of Maj Gen. Sarath.
The general’s ethnically Vietnamese parents, Thong Chamroeun, 65, and Keo Sary, 55, are due in court today to face charges of obstructing a police investigation and possession of illegal weapons, he said.
Just hours before Mr. Chamroeun and Ms. Sary were arrested on Wednesday, they held a press conference at their home in Meanchey district during which they announced they had sent their son into hiding and lambasted municipal police for seeking his arrest, calling for the resignation of Phnom Penh police chief Chuon Sovann.
Maj. Gen. Sarath’s family has built a business empire in Phnom Penh through their successful real estate and food companies, including Meanchey Foods 999, which produces the ubiquitous pate offered at the carts that line the city’s streets. The family also owns the development firm Meanchey International Investment.
According to a message posted to City Hall’s Facebook page Thursday, Maj. Gen. Sarath used his wealth to persuade his bodyguards to carry out the murder of Ung Meng Chue.
“The group of suspects who gunned down Ung Meng Chue confessed that they are not hired killers but merely implemented their boss’ orders in exchange for an apartment each,” the message says.
(Additional reporting by Hul Reaksmey)
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Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly said that a fourth bodyguard was arrested during police raids on the night of Wednesday, December 3. The fourth bodyguard and suspected getaway driver, Ly Sao, was detained by police after presenting himself at Phnom Penh Municipal Police headquarters that morning.