Defendants charged in a high-profile robbery case changed their testimonies in court on Thursday, deflecting blame from former Khmer Rise Party leader William Guang.
The seven defendants who faced trial at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court include the controversial Guang, 44, whose real name is Sok Sovann Vathana Sabung. He was questioned on May 26 along with associate Net Phai Mony during the trial’s first hearing.
The seven are accused of robbing the lavish Phnom Penh home of online seller Eav Sivmey on December 19. They are charged with theft with aggravating circumstances, illegal weapon possession and forgery of public documents and conspiracy to thief with aggravating circumstances.
Thursday’s second trial-hearing saw presiding judge Chhun Davy question three other defendants over two hours. Sovann Ranuth and Or Ramorn accepted that they had participated in the crime, but denied that Guang led the operation. Instead, they put the blame on another accused who is at large, Chuob Sopheaktra.
Ranuth told the court that Sopheaktra had set up the plan, in which Ranuth was to cut off the Wi-Fi to the house while another man went up to the home to show a document when the victim came to the door. It was not clear in court what was on the document, but it was referred to as a court order.
The party then tied up five or six people in the house, told them to be still, and used an electric baton to shock one victim, Ranuth said. But this was not violence, the defendant claimed.
Judge Davy said the account contradicted Ranuth’s previous testimony that Guang had ordered the robbery, and that jewelry stolen from the house was handed to Guang’s wife.
“You are making changes to your testimony in order to protect him, aren’t you?” Davy asked.
But it was the previous testimony that was made under duress and untrue, Ranuth said. “At that time I was confused and the interrogator threatened me.”
Judge Davy was not moved. “This is your right, but in the end, there will be a request to [consider] mitigating the sentence, but you did not show honesty,” she said.
The second defendant, Ramorn, gave similar testimony, though he said it was only four men who were handcuffed in the house. He also claimed this was nonviolent and that the defendants had not used any bad words against the victims.
Ramorn also insisted that it was Sopheaktra, not Guang, who was behind the robbery. At the same time, he said Guang had told them not to take any cash from the house, only jewelry.
Consulting judge Ket Socheat questioned the claim, pointing out that the alleged ringleader, Sopheaktra, was a 24-year-old doorman and driver at Guang’s house.
“Is this person an organizer? Is it believable that he was a ringleader?”
Asked how much he had gained from the robbery, Ramorn said there was no benefit.
“Jewelry is not important to me,” he said. “I have other reasons. I followed what Sopheaktra told me.”
A third defendant, Ket Mach, who was director of the Khmer Rise Party’s finance department, denied that he had anything to do with the crime, and he was asleep when the robbery happened.
But the judge said he and another defendant, Thon Vanthanak Boramey, were accused of trying to destroy the car used in the robbery.
Mach said he had only accompanied Vanthanak Boramey to pick up the car, and they had been chased by military police while driving. At one point almost at the end of the trial, when the judge complained that three of the defendants had given different accounts of a room in the victim’s home that held jewlery and money, Guang stood up and said the judge was using leading questions.
The judge brushed off Guang’s point and proceeded with closing the hearing.
The seven defendants in the case are Guang; Phai Mony, 42; Ramorn, 33; Ranuth, 26; Mach, 26; Vanthanak Boramey, 27; and Sovann Sreysoriyorpor, 28. Vanthanak Boramey and Sreysoriyorpor have yet to be questioned.
The next hearing has been scheduled for June 15.