Ver­dict de­layed in Sarath case

The Phnom Penh Post - - NATIONAL - Niem Ch­heng

MORE t h a n s i x months af­ter the end of hear­ings in the high-pro­file mur­der case against ty­coon and for­mer se­nior de­fence of­fi­cial Thong Sarath, a Ph­nom Penh Mu­nic­i­pal Court judge yes­ter­day de­layed reach­ing a ver­dict, cit­ing a need for fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

A for­mer mil­i­tary gen­eral and real es­tate mogul, Sarath and five body­guards are ac­cused of plan­ning and car­ry­ing out the mur­der of ri­val de­vel­oper Ung Meng Cheu at a fruit stall in Ph­nom Penh’s Chamkar mon d i s t r i c t i n Novem­ber 2014. Sarath and two of his body­guards – Seang Veasna and Ly Sao, the lat­ter of whom passed away in pre­trial de­ten­tion – are charged with pre­med­i­tated mur­der.

Three oth­ers – Meas Sam­bath, Kouy Chan­thol and Chhun Chetra – are al­leged ac­com­plices.

De­spite a ver­dict hav­ing orig­i­nally been ex­pected in May, Mu­nic­i­pal Court Judge Chhun Heng yes­ter­day said he needed ad­di­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the death in cus­tody of Ly Sao and the mil­i­tary back­ground of body­guard Veasna, while also ask­ing com­mune po­lice to ques­tion more wit­nesses.

“The court de­cides to con­tinue to keep the ac­cused in jail await­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion and [fur­ther] hear­ings,” he said.

Court spokesman Ly So­phanna de­fended the de­ci­sion, say­ing there were no time re­stric­tions on is­su­ing a ver­dict, and the judge needed more time and in­for­ma­tion to cor­rectly ad­ju­di­cate the mat­ter.

“It de­pends on the in­di­vid­ual case, which take time to con­sider and de­cide cor­rectly. And judges have the right to do more in­ves­ti­ga­tion if they think that this case can’t be ruled on,” he told re­porters.

Ph­nom Penh Deputy Po­lice Chief Song Ly said that po­lice had not yet re­ceived any re­quests for fur­ther in­ves­tiga- tion from the judge.

Sarath’s lawyer, Tout Lux, could not be reached yes­ter­day. His client was not present in court be­cause he is be­ing treated at Kh­mer Soviet Friend­ship Hospi­tal for an ill­ness, Lux told the court.

Nop Lyda, the wife of Meas Sam­bath, said she was los­ing hope for jus­tice, given that six months had passed since the trial ended. She in­sisted that ev­i­dence pointed to her hus­band’s in­no­cence.

“His mo­tor­bike was put for pawn dur­ing that time and in the videos at Star Mart, there was no pic­ture of him,” she said, re­fer­ring to CCTV footage of the killing, which the prose­cu­tion has said shows Sam­bath tail­ing the vic­tim on his mo­tor­bike.

Sam­bath’s lawyer, Kea Eav, wel­comed the de­lay, say­ing ad­di­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tion would ac­tu­ally help his client.

“I be­lieve that more in­ves­ti­ga­tions will help find bet­ter ev­i­dence to lift the bur­den off my clients and will be the ba­sis for the judge to sen­tence cor­rectly,” said Eav, who also rep­re­sents three other body­guards in the case.

PHA LINA

Ty­coon Thong Sarath ap­pears at Ph­nom Penh Mu­nic­i­pal Court last year.

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