Police Threatened My Family, General’s Bodyguard Testifies

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.

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