Long-Running Tycoon Murder Trial Ends; Verdict Due Next Month

Lawyers made their final arguments on Friday for acquital of a former military general and his bodyguards accused in the brazen 2014 slaying of a wealthy businessman outside a Phnom Penh fruit store.

The long-running trial featured confessions, recanted testimony, tearful alibis and video surveillance footage of the gunshots that killed Ung Meng Chue, 53, as he exited his Lexus SUV on November 22, 2014.

cam photo sarath jens
Thong Sarath leaves the Court of Appeal in Phnom Penh in 2015. (Jens Welding Ollgaard/The Cambodia Daily)

Thong Sarath, a real estate tycoon accused of ordering the hit, never appeared at the trial, citing ill health. His bodyguards pleaded not guilty on Friday and reiterated their claims that despite their earlier confessions, they had not participated in the murder.

Standing in the dock near the end of the trial, one of Mr. Sarath’s bodyguards, Meas Sambath, pleaded with the court to drop the charge against him​​​ so he could return to his family.

“I am not involved in the killing. I am absolutely framed,” Mr. Sambath said, breaking into tears.

Police who investigated the murder concluded that one of Mr. Sarath’s bodyguards, Sieng Veasna, drove to the fruit store with an accomplice and shot Ung Meng Chue, a construction tycoon. Video footage of the killing was swiftly uploaded to social media. Mr. Vea­sna, who was charged with premeditated murder, has maintained his innocence.

The three other bodyguards—Mr. Sambath, Koy Chanthul and Chhun Chetra—were charged as accomplices after po­lice said they had confessed to being lookouts during the shooting. The suspected getaway driver, Ly Sao, died of encephalitis in June.

Heang Makara, a lawyer for Taing Kimchheng, the wife of the 53-year-old slain businessman, has requested $60 million in compensation—$50 million from Mr. Sarath and another $10 million from the four bodyguards. He also called for the longest sentence possible for the accused.

During the trial on Thursday, Mr. Sarath’s lawyer argued there was no evidence that the two men were in conflict and he should be acquitted as there were “no reasons for murder.”

Mr. Sarath was imprisoned for 30 months in June 2015 for possessing illegal weapons in connection with the case, while his parents, Keo Sary and Thong Chamroeun, were given two-year prison sentences for the same offense.

The verdict is expected on May 5.

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