Deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha did not turn up for questioning in court on Wednesday, instead using a meeting with youth at his party’s headquarters to rhetorically ask why the state was pursuing so aggressively the “personal matter” of whether he took a mistress.
Audio recordings purported to be of telephone conversations between Mr. Sokha and his mistresses were published in a slow trickle online throughout March and April, with the opposition leader adopting a policy of not responding to provocations.
In one recording, a man who sounds like Mr. Sokha accuses activist Thy Sovantha of tricking CNRP supporters into donating to her, leading the activist—who has accused him of sex trafficking for allegedly bringing a mistress to Thailand—to file a $1 million defamation lawsuit.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court summoned Mr. Sokha, who has immunity from prosecution as a lawmaker, for questioning over the complaint on Wednesday, but he instead spent the morning criticizing the recent barrage of attacks.
“They have persecuted me since I entered politics in 1992 or 1993,” Mr. Sokha said at the CNRP’s headquarters in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district. “These issues have not been small, they’ve been like a storm.”
“Why, for a personal matter, is a person like me being attacked so seriously like this?” he asked.
“Some say that it’s just a personal matter; why have they used so much time, many institutions, money, and many people to attack me? Are you wondering?”
The remarks are the closest Mr. Sokha has come to publicly acknowledging the claims of marital infidelity leveled against him, having remained silent for more than two months as the state has run a blitzkrieg campaign against him.
A few dozen university students have followed him around the country at each of his public events since the scandal broke out, demanding that he answer the claims and even petitioning the National Assembly and U.N. to ask for their help.
The group have denied any links to the CPP, but the government itself has not been silent in the issue.
So far, it has employed the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) and the Interior Ministry’s anti-terrorism police to investigate the scandal, while a senior CPP lawmaker has threatened to open a special parliamentary inquiry.
Mr. Sokha said on Wednesday that none of that would have happened had he not been an opposition leader. Mr. Sokha is leading the CNRP in the absence of Sam Rainsy, who is living in France to avoid an old prison sentence that was suddenly reactivated in November.
“If it was a completely personal matter of Kem Sokha, they would not have spent so much. But Kem Sokha stands for the nation,” Mr. Sokha said. “If I just stood for myself and my family, they would not have done so much.”
Ly Sophanna, spokesman for the municipal court’s prosecutors, said on Wednesday that deciding not to turn up to questioning was the opposition leader’s right.
“But the deputy court prosecutor in charge of this case is reviewing the case to decide what the next procedures to be taken are,” he said.
Keo Socheat, the deputy prosecutor who summoned Mr. Sokha, could not be reached on Wednesday.
The CNRP last week released a statement saying that Mr. Sokha and two other CNRP lawmakers —Tok Vanchan and Pin Ratana, summoned in a separate “prostitution” case related to the scandal—would not go to court.
The opposition says that lawmakers’ constitutional immunity from arrest and prosecution precludes them from having to respect such summonses, but the CPP says the immunity does not cover questioning.
ACU Chairman Om Yentieng said this week that Mr. Sokha’s failure to show up to a court summons twice could be sufficient grounds to arrest him despite his immunity, citing the exception for crimes when lawmakers are caught committing a crime red-handed.
The government has already used a broad interpretation of the exception to jail opposition Senator Hong Sok Hour and National Assembly member Um Sam An despite their immunity, drawing rebuke from the CNRP.
Outside of Ms. Sovantha’s defamation lawsuit, Mr. Sokha has also been summoned next week to the municipal court as a “witness” in a case accusing 25-year-old Khom Chandaraty of prostitution for her alleged affair with him.