Prime Minister Hun Sen revealed on Thursday that he had obtained extensive personal information about the alleged mistress of deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha, including details of her passport application, photographs of her travels with Mr. Sokha and other proof of their affair.
In a speech at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh, Mr. Hun Sen took aim at the woman, 25-year-old hairdresser Khem Chandaraty, for denying that she was involved with Mr. Sokha, rattling off a list of photographic evidence and other proof he had acquired that the pair had a romantic liaison in Bangkok. He went on to imply that the government was still considering taking legal action against the deputy opposition leader over the affair.
“Someone says, ‘I do not have a passport, but the passport [department] confirms you made a passport,” the premier said. “She says, ‘No, I’ve never gone outside the country,’ but [there are] Bangkok Airways air tickets. At Pochentong Airport and Bangkok’s airport there were photos captured, and the hotel in Bangkok has photos too,” he said.
“Even in my phone, there are photos [of them] walking at the Bangkok airport,” he said.
Mr. Hun Sen did not elaborate on how he had obtained the photographs, why they were on his phone, or whether Thai authorities had been involved in tailing the alleged lovers.
The speech was just the latest escalation in the scandal surrounding Mr. Sokha, which began earlier this month when a Facebook account using the name “Mon Srey” began sharing audio clips of intimate telephone conversations in which a man who sounds like the deputy opposition leader is heard speaking with a woman about their love affair.
It is still unclear who recorded the clips or how they came to be leaked, but their publication was swiftly followed by a court case and a police investigation into alleged defamation that has seen Ms. Chandaraty called in for questioning by anti-terrorism officials.
Mr. Hun Sen implied on Thursday that Mr. Sokha could be next. “Although we do not take action yet, the court has ordered police to take action” over the case, he said.
Phil Robertson, deputy head of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, called Mr. Hun Sen’s revelation that the lovers were being tailed and photographed “shameful,” and said it raised new questions about the extent to which opposition figures were under watch.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen must have a lot of spare time on his hands if he’s able to direct such intensive surveillance of an opposition leader,” he said. “This is a classic case of rights abuse in the service of Hun Sen’s direct personal interests.”
Mao Chandara, the head of the Interior Ministry’s General Directorate of Identification, which oversees the passport department, said he could not discuss the matter because he was at a wedding. Chhuor Kimny, the head of the airport police, could not be reached for comment.
Thawatchai Thanapanitsakul, the country manager for Bangkok Airways, denied that the airline had given any passenger information to the government, and said he was not aware of the case.
“I don’t know. Where did you get the information from?” he said. “We cannot give the information [about] something like this.”
He added that Mr. Hun Sen might have gotten a passenger manifest from airport officials, but that it had not come directly from the airline.
Phay Siphan, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said that perhaps the photographs Mr. Hun Sen referred to had been shared on social media, and denied that the government had set out to spy on Mr. Sokha.
“‘Spy,’ it is not a proper word to use in this case because there are cameras everywhere,” he said. “Even if you check in the hotel, every hotel, there is a CCTV down there.”
Mr. Siphan added that Mr. Hun Sen had “a right to check” information about Mr. Sokha’s alleged affair because the opposition leader and his purported girlfriend had been wrong to have an affair and then deny it.
“The prime minister has a right to understand that, he has a right to know that, because this information, people like his mistress denied it, and he can prove it.”
Mr. Siphan went on to accuse Mr. Sokha of using his mistress as “a sexual slave” and added that Cambodian culture did not allow political leaders to have extramarital affairs.
“Our culture is different from the Western,” he said. “You can have 10 boyfriends at the same time, but Cambodian rarely has that one and sometimes husbands kill their partners because of jealousy, but that’s not the Western way.
“Why did he exchange sexual with that mistress to offer money, to offer house? It’s slavery. Do you want to be slave?… Do you want his girlfriend to earn a car or a villa or a house? You don’t care, that’s your own culture. Cambodia, we care about that one.”
CNRP representatives could not be reached for comment on Thursday. However, at an opposition summit in Manila earlier this week, the party formulated a strategy of “not answering, responding or arguing” to political provocations.
Mr. Hun Sen mocked this notion on Thursday, saying there was nothing that could make the issue disappear at this point, as it was a topic of widespread discussion on social media.
“Three ‘no’s about a sex scandal cannot hide anything,” he said. “It would work only in the 1980s, not in the 21st century.”
Still, despite the unique online context of this most recent brouhaha, the prime minister has frequently boasted over the years of having obtained private or behind-the-scenes information about opposition figures, and has seemed to relish divulging it in his public speeches.
Two years ago, he accused Mr. Sokha of having had sex with an underage girl, and he has several times touted private recordings that he said proved that CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay was a spy. In 2008, he said his intelligence agents had overheard a politician’s wife threatening to gouge his eye out.
“I have all the means to gather information,” the prime minister said at the time. “Even if you fart, I will know.”