Municipal court hands life sentence to Thong Sarath

Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday convicted and sentenced property tycoon Thong Sarath and his four bodyguards to life in prison for the murder of Ung Meng Chue in 2014.

Judge Top Chhunheng said Mr Sarath was convicted of initiating premeditated murder, while bodyguards Seang Veasna, Meas Sambath, Kouy Chanthol, and Chhun Pheaktra were convicted of being accomplices to premediated murder.

“Based on the evidence, the court has found them guilty,” Judge Chhunheng said. “Therefore the court has decided to convict them and sentence them to life in prison each.

“They have the right to appeal the verdict to the Appeal Court within the period of a month, if they do not accept,” he added.

Deputy court prosecutor Hing Bunthan yesterday said that according to the confessions of Mr Veasna and Ly Sao, a suspect who died of HIV/AIDS in 2016, Mr Sarath was the mastermind behind the murder.

Mr Bunthan said Mr Sarath hired Mr Veasna, Mr Sao, Mr Sambath and Mr Chanthol to kill Mr Meng Chue with a promise of money and apartments. 

“To prepare for the plot to kill the victim, Chhun Pheatra offered his own motorbike to Seang Veasna and Ly Sao for them to commit the crime,” he said.

“Ly Sao and Seang Veasna followed the victim until the victim parked his car,” Mr Bunthan added. “After the victim parked his car, got off, and approached a fruit shop, Seang Veasna got off the motorbike, withdrew a pistol, walked behind the victim and shot several bullets into him. The victim immediately died at the scene.”

He noted that Mr Chanthol and Mr Sambath were on a different motorbike serving as lookout.

After the guilty verdict was handed to each of the accused, family members of the bodyguards yelled “injustice” and “the judge was not transparent”.

Family members then blocked the court’s entryway in order to prevent bailiffs from taking the four to prison. However, they were forced to move by police after about an hour.

Mr Sarath did not attend the trial due to an illness. He has been in hospital due to high-blood pressure and a heart attack.

His four bodyguards were present during the sentencing and told Sky Radio that the judgment was an injustice to them.

“I did not know the victim, nor did I kill him, but the court convicted me and gave me a life sentence,” Mr Veasna said.

Mr Sambath said he was a victim of the police, adding that he did not know the victim.

“I will appeal my sentence to a higher court. I am innocent. I hope that the higher court can find truth and justice for me,” he said.

Teav Thida, wife of Mr Sarath, said her husband was a good man who generated many jobs for poor Cambodians.

Ms Thida said ever since her husband was arrested, her real estate business has collapsed.

“Although my husband was from Vietnam, he was a good investor and a good man,” she said. “I don’t believe he committed these things, as the court alleged.”

Tout Lux, Mr Sarath’s attorney, said his client is innocent. Mr Lux said Mr Sarath never met Mr Meng Chue or had disagreements with him.

He said that CCTV footage taken from that day showed that Mr Sarath, Mr Sambath and Mr Chanthol were working at Mr Sarath’s office in Meanchey district.

“My client didn’t know Mr Meng Chue, never met him, nor had arguments with him,” Mr Lux said. “There was no reason to have the victim killed.”

Heang Makara, lawyer of Kim Chheang, wife of Mr Meng Chue, said justice was served.

“My client can accept this,” Mr Makara said.