Shooting pains

December 8, 2014

As Cambodia slips back into its usual state of torpor after the excitements of last year’s elections, local journalists are scratching around to find much to write about. At least until two weeks ago, when a local businessman was shot to death on the street, a shooting which has captivated the nation.

Businessman Ung Meng Cheu was shot six times outside a fruit shop in central Phnom Penh on November 22 and died at the scene. Security camera footage of the shooting was circulated widely, and can be seen below. However, if you don’t enjoy watching someone getting gunned down and actually dying, then I’d advise against it.

The police, moving unusually quickly, named another local tycoon called Thong Sarath as the man behind the shooting. As well has his business interests, Sarath is a deputy cabinet chief at the Ministry of Defence and one-time member of the government’s Brigade 70 military unit.

Countless allegations have been levelled against Brigade 70 since its inception, including claims of murder, fatal crackdowns and political arrests, which critics say were carried out with impunity. A 2007 report by environmental group Global Witness accused the unit of running a logging and contraband trafficking operation worth more than $2 million a year.

But Sarath has disappeared, with rumours saying that he’s fled to Vietnam. No one expects him to surface any time soon.

The police have arrested a number of his bodyguards, and charged them with the murder, after raiding a number of his houses.

In a bizarre press conference just hours before the raid, his mother, Keo Sary, defended her son from allegations of involvement in the killing.

Dripping with expensive jewellery, boasting about her family’s wealth and even at one point counting wads of banknotes, which she later handed out to journalists, Sary said her son had gone into hiding to escape arrest over a crime he did not commit.

But last night, both parents were remanded on charges of gun possession, and could face up to three years in jail.

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Before their remand, Sarath’s parents emerged from questioning to apologise to Phnom Penh’s police chief, whom they had threatened to have fired for investigating their son.

This story will run and run. Local journalists are delighted.

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