Lunch Date Might Keep Bodyguard in Jail

Pech Prum Mony, a military general who was jailed in February for judicial interference, is set to be freed next month, but a bottle of wine and a basket of fruit gifted to him during a lunch meeting could potentially extend his Prey Sar prison stay for up to 10 years.

The former bodyguard of disgraced Phnom Penh Municipal Court director Ang Mealaktei is embroiled in a scandal surrounding the investigation into the assassination of tycoon Ung Meng Chue last November that led to the removal of his former boss.

Brigadier General Pech Prum Mony and Keo Sary are seen together in a photograph circulated online after the general's arrest in February.
Brigadier General Pech Prum Mony and Keo Sary are seen together in a photograph circulated online after the general’s arrest in February.

Defense Ministry official Thong Sarath was charged with the murder in December and his parents, Keo Sary and Thong Chamroeun, were jailed on illegal weapons charges after a cache of guns was found during police raids on their homes the same month.

At the center of the scandal is Mr. Mealaktei, who led the investigation into the roadside killing of Ung Meng Chue and was fired hours after Prime Minister Hun Sen suggested in a speech on February 17 that the court had been paid $5 million to overturn a decision denying bail to Mr. Sarath’s parents.

Days after Ms. Sary and Mr. Chamroeun were released on bail after their initial arrest in December, they met Brigadier General Prum Mony for lunch at the One More restaurant in Tuol Kork district, according to his lawyer, Pheng Sideth. As a result of the meeting, the former bodyguard is now also fighting charges of “passive trading in influence” brought against him by the Anti-Corruption Unit.

Mr. Sideth claimed that Brig. Gen. Prum Mony had agreed to meet a lawyer, who he did not identify, at the restaurant, and only realized after he had arrived that the wealthy couple was also present.

“At that time, Thong Sarath’s parents gave him a gift basket that included a bottle of wine and some fruit,” Mr. Sideth said on Wednesday.

“He did not want to take the gift but he did after Thong Sarath’s parents told him that it was a gift for Chinese and Vietnamese New Year, and not a bribe.”

As the accusations have stacked up against him over the past year, Brig. Gen. Prum Mony has consistently argued that he had only ever acted on requests made by Mr. Mealaktei and other powerful figures, including ACU chairman Om Yentieng.

The lunch meeting at which Brig. Gen. Prum Mony received the fruit and wine was no different, Mr. Sideth said, though it remains unclear who initiated the meeting.

“The meeting with Thong Sa- rath’s parents also had approval from…Ang Mealaktei. He did everything according to the orders of his boss,” he said.

Mr. Sideth said his client had never taken any money from Ms. Sary or Mr. Chamroeun.

On Friday, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court inexplicably slashed Brig. Gen. Prum Mony’s prison time for interfering in the murder investigation of Ung Meng Chue to 10 months—below the one year minimum stipulated in the criminal code.

In court, the former soldier, who was seconded from Preah Vihear province at the request of Mr. Mealaktei, has stated that he had been instructed to participate in the murder investigation, and that Mr. Yentieng had ordered him to raid villas owned by Major General Sarath’s parents.

Mr. Yentieng has refuted the claims. Now the two stand on opposite sides of the “trading in influence” charge, which is defined as accepting gifts in exchange for favors and carries a penalty of five to 10 years in prison.

Mr. Yentieng, along with his deputy Chhay Savuth and ACU spokesman Keo Remy, could not be reached on Wednesday.

Ly Sophana, the deputy prosecutor in the case, declined to comment, stating that the investigation in­to the new charge was being con­ducted “in secrecy.”

Taing Sunlay, who replaced Mr. Mealaktei as municipal court di­rector, confirmed that the ACU’s com­plaint against Brig. Gen. Prum Mony had reached the investigating judge, but was un­able to offer further insight into the case.

“I have not read the case file so I can not comment on the case,” he said.

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