A former bodyguard for disgraced military general Thong Sarath testified on Friday that he told the police what they wanted to hear because they threatened his family during their investigation into the 2014 murder of tycoon Ung Meng Chue.
Meas Sambath, who took the stand at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday, said he had no choice but to identify Sieng Veasna, a fellow bodyguard, as the man seen in security-camera footage shooting Ung Meng Chue six times outside a fruit store on November 22, 2014.
“During the police questioning session, I twice denied knowing about this case, but they threatened me and my wife and my child,” Mr. Sambath said.
He said he could answer truthfully now, before the court, “because I am not scared like the previous time.”
Mr. Sambath and four fellow guards stand accused of carrying out the 2014 assasination on the orders of Mr. Sarath, a former major general whose family has vast business holdings. Mr. Sarath was arrested last year after a monthslong manhunt and charged with orchestrating the murder.
During Friday morning’s hearing, judges, prosecutors and lawyers for the defendants discussed discrepancies between Mr. Sambath’s testimony and his initial comments to police.
Presiding Judge Top Chhun Heng told Mr. Sambath that he needed to be careful with his answers. “You can provide a suitable excuse, but you cannot just say what you want,” he said.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Mr. Veasna, the suspected shooter and Mr. Sarath’s chief bodyguard, professed innocence. “I did not commit the crime. So please, watch the man who is in the video clip. The man is not me,” he said.
Reached later by telephone, Tey Visal, deputy chief of the municipal police’s serious crimes bureau, dismissed Mr. Sambath’s accusations. “Our police did not threaten or torture him,” he said. “Our police questioned him according to procedure.”
Both Mr. Veasna and bodyguard Ly Sao were charged with premeditated murder after police said they admitted to driving together to the fruit store, where Mr. Veasna allegedly shot Ung Meng Chue as he exited his Lexus SUV.
Ly Sao died of encephalitis in June. Mr. Sambath, along with bodyguards Koy Chanthul and Chhun Chetra, were charged as accomplices for allegedly keeping watch over the scene. The four surviving bodyguards have insisted that they are innocent and recanted their confessions to police.
The trial is set to continue on Friday.