Defense Ministry official Thong Sarath, who is wanted for coordinating the murder of a prominent businessman in Phnom Penh last month, has apparently fled the country, according to an audio recording that surfaced online Monday.
Major General Sarath, a deputy cabinet chief at the Defense Ministry, is accused of ordering four of his bodyguards to assassinate Shimmex Group chairman Ung Meng Chue, who was shot dead outside a fruit store in Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district on November 22.
Maj. Gen. Sarath’s parents, who were jailed Sunday on charges of possessing illegal weapons, announced publicly last week that they had sent their son—a wealthy tycoon whose family owns Meanchey International Investment and Meanchey Foods 999—into hiding.
Since his disappearance, there had been no word of Maj. Gen. Sarath until an audio clip appeared on a Facebook page, Cambodia Real News, accompanied by a post that claims the recording is of the general’s voice.
Cambodia Real News, which features posts defending Maj. Gen Sarath’s innocence, was created on December 3, the same day that municipal police raided a number of the general’s villas in Meanchey district and arrested his parents.
“I didn’t want to go into exile,” a man’s voice in the recording says. “I didn’t want to leave Cambodia. I love this land. Please help me to come back to my country. Samdech [Prime Minister Hun Sen], only Samdech can help.”
In the clip, the man said to be Maj. Gen. Sarath protests his innocence and also defends the four bodyguards, who were charged with carrying out the murder and jailed on Friday, saying they are also blameless.
“Samdech, this issue is not normal,” the voice says. “Small injustices, if we don’t solve them, will become big injustices. Big injustices, when [we] don’t solve them, will become a war.”
Three of Maj. Gen. Sarath’s employees, including Par Thanit, 25, who works in a sales office for his family’s Borey 999 real estate company, said they believed the voice in the recording was that of the general.
“It is my boss’ voice and I know it clearly, since I have been working with him for about five years,” Ms. Thanit said.
“Every two weeks, we had a meeting with our boss and I’m used to his voice,” she added.
Soeum Saroeurn, Maj. Gen. Sarath’s assistant, also said the clip was a recording of his employer’s voice, because the man spoke with an “unclear accent.”
Municipal penal police chief Eng Sorphea said he was unaware of the clip and could not comment on its authenticity.
“We have no new information about Thong Sarath,” he added. “We have not arrested him yet.”
Border police chief Chhay Bunna said municipal police instructed him on December 3 to ensure his officers watch for Maj. Gen. Sarath possibly trying to escape across the border.
“We have not seen him crossing the border,” he said. “We have to keep our eyes open to arrest him.”
(Additional reporting by Chhorn Chansy)