Police in Long Beach, California, said on Saturday that they had opened an investigation into the alleged assault of an American man by a bodyguard of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son Hun Manet.
Yet Lieutenant General Manet, in an interview on the same day, said that he believed the injured man, Paul Hayes, had “somehow tripped and fell” and that his bodyguards would have been arrested had he been assaulted.
Mr. Hayes, a private investigator, was attempting to serve a subpoena for a U.S. federal lawsuit to Lt. Gen. Manet on April 9 outside a restaurant when, he claims, a bodyguard lifted him and threw him to the ground head-first, damaging his spine.
“I can confirm that the case is being investigated and is assigned to a Detective in our Violent Crimes Detail,” Brad Johnson, a spokesman for the Long Beach police department, said in an email Saturday. “That detective will be back to work on Monday.”
Mr. Johnson added that no arrests had been made but that police were present when Mr. Hayes was allegedly assaulted, due to a protest being held against Lt. Gen. Manet’s Khmer New Year trip to the U.S.
“On 4/9/16 at 5:22 p.m., officers were on standby to assist with keeping the peace during a protest in the 1400 block of Atlantic Avenue when they were contacted by a victim of a battery,” he said.
“The victim [Mr. Hayes] advised them he was a private investigator and was attempting to serve a subpoena to Hun Manet, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces,” he added.
“When he attempted to serve the subject he was pushed to the ground by unknown suspects and struck his head,” he said. “Investigation remains ongoing.”
Mr. Hayes, who spent much of last week in intensive care and remains in a neck brace, said on Sunday that he was pleased that police were investigating the case but knew little more about it.
“When my wife brought me home from the hospital on Thursday, we stopped by the police department and then I got a call from a detective who was at the hospital looking for me. That’s all I’ve heard,” Mr. Hayes said.
Lt. Gen. Manet has not responded to multiple requests for comment about Mr. Hayes or the lawsuit.
However, in an interview with the editorial board of the Lowell Sun newspaper in Massachusetts on Saturday, Lt. Gen. Manet was asked about the subpoena that was being delivered by Mr. Hayes.
“The day I arrived, I didn’t even know until I saw it on social media the next day from Cambodia, people saying that you are being sued for this and that,” Lt. Gen. Manet said, before denying that his bodyguards assaulted Mr. Hayes.
“Somehow he tripped and fell, and even the police was on the spot there, there were two officers on the spot there. If it was an assault, I think [the bodyguards] would be arrested,” he added.
Lt. Gen. Manet’s account mirrors that offered last week by Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, who speculated that Mr. Hayes may have “fell down” and said he was simply pepper sprayed by a bodyguard after trying to attack Lt. Gen. Manet.
Mr. Hayes said that both Mr. Siphan and Lt. Gen. Manet’s claims were farcical and that protesters at the site would have made it difficult for police to see what happened.
“I absolutely did not trip and fall, and especially not backwards. Secondly, yes, there were police there, but the scene at that precise location was of a mob, with dozens of people around,” he said.
“There was a melee. What does Manet expect, that the police are clairvoyants and they will pick them out of the crowd amid all the chaos? I wish that were the case. What he is saying is pure garbage.”
Mr. Hayes had been attempting to serve Lt. Gen. Manet with a subpoena relating to a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit filed in a U.S. federal court by opposition CNRP official Meach Sovannara, a U.S. citizen serving 20 years in prison in Phnom Penh.
Mr. Sovannara, whose family lives in Long Beach, was found guilty last year of “leading an insurrection” for being present at a protest in Phnom Penh that turned into a street brawl. He is suing Lt. Gen. Manet and the Cambodian government for damages resulting from the jailing, which his lawyers say is arbitrary.