komchay mear district, Prey Veng province – Following high-profile detentions by the Anticorruption Unit, Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Saturday denied there was any attempt to pursue members of any ruling party faction linked to him, saying all people were accountable under the law.
“I do not think that way,” Mr Kheng said after a ceremony here. “I think everyone must follow the law and respect the law in fulfilling their duty. And if anyone commits wrongdoing, that person must face legal action.”
Since the November arrest of Pursat provincial prosecutor Tob Chan Sereivuth, the recently created ACU has continued to pursue high-ranking officials, including narcotics police officers.
Two of the most prominent officials—Lieutenant General Moek Dara, one of the country’s senior-most narcotics officials, and Banteay Meanchey provincial police chief Hun Hean—are under investigation for corruption and drug allegations in what officials say is a linked case.
Mr Hean was once Mr Kheng’s chief bodyguard, while Lt Gen Dara was once chief of police in Battambang province, long seen as a base of support for Mr Kheng.
Officials said over the weekend that talk of CPP factionalism was just a false rumor.
“It’s time to bury this out-of-fashion, stereotype idea [of] internal fighting for power in the CPP,” Khieu Kanharith, information minister and government spokesman, wrote in an e-mail yesterday. Mr Kanharith said the recent arrests were the result of a “long investigation conducted by different services.”
Police Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said in Prey Veng province on Saturday that the ruling party was unified and that Mr Kheng had no ambition to head it.
According to Son Soubert, a former member of the Constitutional Council and a critic of the government, the CPP’s secretiveness makes it difficult to know what is happening internally but fault lines occasionally come to the fore.
“We know that the internal confrontation happened a long time ago,” Mr Soubert said yesterday.
As an example, Mr Soubert cited when then-acting head of state Chea Sim left the country in 2004 without signing an agreement to form a government headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen. CPP officials denied at the time that the CPP president had declined to approve the agreement, saying he required medical care in Bangkok.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the party has changed in the past 10 years.
“We could entertain the idea that this is a case where Hun Sen targeted a different faction within the CPP,” Mr Virak said of the recent investigations by the ACU. “But I honestly doubt that this is the case now, given that I think that there is not any viable faction within the CPP. I think Hun Sen has consolidated his power and is secure about it.”
While declining to comment on the motivation behind the ACU’s recent probes, independent analyst Chea Vannath said, in general, such investigations could be both a genuine attempt to combat corruption and evidence of factional tensions.
“It can serve for both ends,” Ms Vannath said. “Number one is to show the muscle, that the government is committed to curb corruption. So it is a strong message to the government officials to slow down or to be careful. Number two, if the assumption for political motivation is true, it sends the message, ‘We better be united or else.’”
International and national groups, as well as the opposition SRP, have voiced skepticism about the ACU, claiming it is still under political control.
“The unit is not independent,” SRP spokesman Yim Sovann wrote in an e-mail yesterday. “The institutions which have power to appoint the composition of the unit […] belong to the CPP.”
Koula Panha, executive director for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said the recent investigations were a step in the right direction, but he said much remained to be seen.
“I think this is a positive step,” Mr Panha said. “We have to observe if they continue this work.”