A criminal “mastermind” sought by police since 2011 for a string of over 30 armed robberies in Prey Veng province was arrested working at a construction site in Phnom Penh on Sunday and charged in court on Monday, police said.
Moeng Sary, a 60-year-old former primary school teacher, was charged with aggravated theft by the Prey Veng Provincial Court on Monday and immediately remanded for provisional detention, provincial police chief Sreng Chea said.
“The Pur Senchey district police arrested him on Sunday afternoon, the robbery mastermind whom we have tried to find for many years,” he said.
He described how Mr. Sary had planned more than 30 robberies of homes and grocery stores in Prey Veng province’s neighboring districts of Preah Sdech and Kompong Trabek, which were carried out alongside four other men, all armed with AK-47 assault rifles.
While no one had ever been injured in robberies linked to the gang, Mr. Sary said people in the two districts had been left “very afraid.”
He added that one of the gang members was shot dead by police as they attempted to arrest him in 2014, while the other three members were arrested early last year. This not only ended the crime spree, but also allowed police to gather intelligence on Mr. Sary’s whereabouts. Mr. Chea said he had alerted police in Phnom Penh that Mr. Sary was likely living in the capital after receiving a tip from one of the robber’s former associates.
He added, however, that police in Phnom Penh ended up discovering Mr. Sary by happenstance, when they were inspecting construction sites.
Preah Sdech district police chief Chey Senghan said there had been more than 20 robberies in his district attributed to Mr. Sary’s gang. He said he believed the ex-teacher had embarked on a life of crime because his salary was so paltry.
“He is a former teacher, and I think he started robbing as it gave him much more money from his small teaching salary,” he said.
However, he added that Mr. Sary’s late-in-life career change was beneath someone with his level of education.
“His idea was almost childish—like that of a teenager,” he said.