Four senior officials of local rights group Adhoc and a former official who now works for the National Election Committee (NEC) were questioned at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court over the weekend and were held overnight at the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU).
The five people—Adhoc’s head of monitoring Ny Sokha, his deputies Nay Vanda and Yi Soksan, its senior investigator Lim Mony, and NEC deputy secretary-general Ny Chakrya, Mr. Sokha’s predecessor—were brought to the court on Saturday.
Each had been arrested and detained by the ACU, which is leading the inquiry into CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha’s sex scandal, and have been accused of helping him convince the alleged mistress to deny the affair with the help of a $500 bribe.
They were sent back to the ACU’s headquarters for detention on Saturday night but returned to the court on Sunday morning for further questioning by prosecutors. They were again returned to the ACU at 8 p.m. on Sunday.
Sam Sokong, the defense lawyer for Mr. Chakrya, whose questioning was completed on Sunday, said deputy prosecutor Lim Pech had not yet decided whether to lay any charges against the NEC official.
“The court only finished questioning one among all the other suspects, who are still not finished,” Mr. Sokong said at around 6 p.m.
“In the legal procedure, if it’s one case with many suspects, this requires the prosecutor to question all suspects and then study whether to lay charges.”
Mr. Sokong said he did not know what his client’s alleged role was in Mr. Sokha’s sex scandal.
“I still do not know in detail either,” he said. “We do not believe he is involved, but this is still in the questioning procedure, so we will find out more.”
Lor Chhunthy, a lawyer for the Adhoc officials, said questioning of the other four had finished by 8 p.m., when all five were sent back to the ACU.
“They already finished the procedure of questioning this evening at about 8 p.m. They did not decide whether to charge my clients yet because it was too late at night,” he said.
“[The suspects] were sent back to the ACU tonight and according to the procedure they will send them back to the court tomorrow morning,” he added.
A U.N. official, Sally Soen, has also been summoned in the case but has refused to turn up, with the local U.N. human rights office citing his immunity as a U.N. officer even as the ACU says it will summon him again—and potentially arrest him if need be.
In a speech in Preah Sihanouk province on Sunday, Prime Minister Hun Sen appeared to say that immunity was provided only to the foreign U.N. officials working in Cambodia, and that it could not be passed around to Mr. Soen like a protective hat.
“Even if the mother has immunity or the father has immunity, if it comes to put [their children in jail], they will be put in prison, because immunity is not an armored hat,” the prime minister said in his speech. “You bribed a witness…you pressed them.”
Outside the courthouse on Sunday, about 60 people rallied to demand that the human rights workers be freed in the case, slammed by critics as a politically motivated attack on civil society. Some 40 riot police used shields to push protesters back onto the curb as they shouted out “injustice,” but no one was hurt.
An opposition commune chief has been charged with “bribery of a witness” and jailed in the case for promising the alleged mistress’ family $500, but the CNRP says it was an act of charity from overseas supporters concerned by her loss of work as a result of the scandal.
Kem Ley, a political analyst who was among those observing the day’s activities, said he thought the the ACU had bigger fish to fry—like the damning revelations about corruption within the Ministry of Health revealed by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
The Global Fund in 2014 alleged that former National Malaria Center director Duong Socheat and other officials took $450,000 in bribes from overseas mosquito net providers in exchange for contracts worth $12 million as part of a Global Fund project.
“If we compare this to the Global Fund, that was about $410,000 but the people who were involved with Global Found were not investigated,” Mr. Ley said. “It’s a case of $200 to $500 to help the victim as a case of charity, when she was facing legal issues. To turn this into a court case I think it is ridiculous.”
(Additional reporting by Kang Sothear)