Three prominent business people with close links to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP have filed lawsuits against opposition leader Sam Rainsy, alleging he defamed them with accusations they bribed Prince Norodom Ranariddh so Funcinpec would form a coalition government with the CPP.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court clerk Pich Sambath said Wednesday that the plaintiffs are seeking a combined $37,500 from Sam Rainsy and that all three are expected to appear in court for questioning next week.
Sam Rainsy’s lawyer, Som Chandyna, said Chin Sopheap, the owner of land concession and timber giant Pheapimex, filed a lawsuit on Feb 7, while Ly Yong Phat of Hero-King Co, who also owns a casino in Koh Kong province, filed a suit on Feb 15.
Ung Bun Hauv, chairman of road-concession company AZ Investment Co Ltd and is also a CPP parliamentarian, submitted his lawsuit March 14.
All three cases are related to comments Sam Rainsy made in August 2004, Som Chandyna said, adding that the lawsuits would be combined into one court case, at which point he expects it to move forward.
Som Chandyna said if the court performs its job in an unbiased and professional manner, his client is not worried about the outcome.
Sam Rainsy Party Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang called the court actions another attempt by the government to silence the opposition.
“It is no surprise because this is a CPP strategy to crack down on the opposition party, by using the court system and telling business people to file the lawsuits,” he said Wednesday.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith denied the CPP was involved.
“We are not linked with those lawsuits,” he said. “They have their right to sue.”
Funcinpec spokesman Chea Chanbaribo also denied Wednesday that his party was involved and said the three business people were just trying to find justice.
“The three Oknhas are the victims of accusations from Mr Sam Rainsy,” he said.
Ly Yong Phat and Chin Sopheap could not be reached by telephone for comment on Wednesday. Keo Setha, a representative for AZ, hung up the phone several times when asked for comment.
Sam Rainsy first accused Prince Ranariddh of taking a bribe to form a coalition government in a radio interview on July 12, less than two weeks after the CPP-Funcinpec agreement was announced.
Sam Rainsy has been the subject of several other defamation lawsuits, including another launched by Funcinpec relating to the opposition leader’s accusations of bribe-taking by the prince. Hun Sen is also suing the opposition leader over allegations related to the assassination of union leader Chea Vichea.
The National Assembly suspended Sam Rainsy’s parliamentary immunity and that of two of his party members on Feb 3, clearing the way for the lawsuits to proceed.
Sam Rainsy fled the country the same day but is expected to return in April.