The man accused of killing construction tycoon Ung Meng Chue denied any involvement in the 2014 shooting outside a Phnom Penh fruit store, testifying on Friday that he had spent the day visiting a traditional healer.
Former bodyguard Sieng Veasna is accused of shooting the tycoon six times on the orders of his employer, disgraced former military general Thong Sarath, who was charged with orchestrating the crime, allegedly over a business dispute.
Despite a previous confession to police, which he has said was made under duress, Mr. Veasna denied in court that he was at the scene of the November 22 slaying.
“I was busy bringing my mother-in-law to be treated by a Khmer traditional healer for the day, so I don’t know anything about the shooting of the oknha, and I never knew Oknha Ung Meng Chue,” Mr. Veasna testified, using a royal honorific bestowed on those who make a minimum $100,000 donation to the state.
Mr. Veasna and fellow bodyguard Ly Sao previously confessed to the shooting. At the time, they said they were acting on the orders of Mr. Sarath, who also has vast business holdings.
Ly Sao died of encephalitis in June, but three other former bodyguards have been charged as accomplices for keeping watch during the murder. The three have denied the charges and said their initial confessions were also made under police threat.
Speaking at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday, Mr. Veasna said he had been a soldier and later joined the military police before eventually becoming Mr. Sarath’s chief bodyguard.
Mr. Veasna explained that he had spent the day before the murder drinking with friends, including alleged accomplice Chhun Chetra, and had become so drunk that he called in sick the next day.
“Around 6 a.m., I called my officers to ask permission for me to take one day off,” Mr. Veasna said, adding that he then brought his sick mother-in-law to the healer for treatment.
Under repeated questioning from the judge and prosecutors, he said: “I did not know about the shooting death of Okhna Ung Meng Chue.”
Tey Visal, deputy chief of the municipal police’s serious crimes bureau, said in July that Mr. Veasna’s confession was damning. He said the bodyguard had told police that he followed the target for three days before the shooting, and called a fellow bodyguard, Koy Chanthul, once the job was done.
“Sieng Veasna called Koy Chanthul after he committed the crime and said ‘I killed an oknha,’ and Koy Chanthul replied, ‘Why did you kill an oknha?’ and Sieng Veasna said, ‘I act when someone gives me money,’” Mr. Visal said.
Lawyers for Mr. Veasna, who is charged with premeditated murder, and his accused colleagues declined to comment on the case.
Presiding Judge Top Chhun Heng said the trial would continue on Friday.
sovuthy@cambodiadaily.com
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