The CNRP said on Wednesday that its lawmakers would not be heeding summonses for questioning over a party leader’s sex scandal, while the man spearheading the government’s investigation, corruption czar Om Yentieng, defended the probe on national television and warned of more arrests.
On Monday, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court laid bribery charges against National Election Committee deputy secretary-general Ny Chakrya, a U.N. staffer and four senior officers of rights group Adhoc as part of an expanding investigation by the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) into an alleged affair between CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha and a 25-year-old hairdresser. The following day, it summoned Mr. Sokha himself and two fellow party lawmakers for questioning.
But in a statement on Wednesday, the CNRP said that none of its lawmakers would be respecting such summonses unless their constitutionally guaranteed immunity was officially lifted first.
The Constitution guarantees lawmakers protection from prosecution unless two-thirds of their colleagues—either in the National Assembly or Senate—vote to strip their immunity, a threshold the ruling CPP cannot meet on its own in the Assembly. To broad rebuke, police have arrested two opposition lawmakers in recent months, claiming the constitutional exception for those caught in the act of committing a crime.
“CNRP lawmakers see that every summons issued by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for a parliamentarian with immunity is a serious abuse of the parliamentarian’s immunity as guaranteed in Article 80 of the Constitution,” the party’s statement said.
“CNRP parliamentarians will not heed summonses from Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutors that violate the law.”
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said the decision covered the summonses issued on Tuesday but was meant to apply more broadly.
“We don’t want to name any individual,” he said. “But from today on, in accordance with the principles of the Constitution and other legal procedures, the issuance of these summonses is wrong.”
Ly Sophanna, a spokesman for the municipal court prosecutors, declined to say how the court would proceed if the lawmakers did not show up. Mr. Sokha is due in court on Wednesday.
“We will wait until the date is set for them, because we don’t believe they will not show up,” he said. But should they stay away, he added, “we have many steps we can take with individuals who resist giving answers before the prosecutors.”
Outside the National Assembly, however, after a meeting of the chamber’s permanent committee, CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun told reporters that Mr. Sokha was unlikely to be arrested without his immunity being officially stripped, the way the other two lawmakers were.
“This does not look like a red-handed case,” he said, referring to the Constitution’s “in flagrante delicto” clause.
Meanwhile, Mr. Yentieng, the ACU chairman, took to PNN TV, a broadcaster owned by CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat, to defend the investigation he officially opened into corruption claims surrounding Mr. Sokha’s alleged affair in March.
In an interview, he took particular aim at the election committee’s Mr. Chakrya, who is in provisional detention along with the four senior Adhoc officers.
He painted Mr. Chakrya, a former top officer at Adhoc, as the mastermind behind the alleged bribes paid to Mr. Sokha’s supposed mistress to deny the affair. The woman, Khom Chandaraty, had been denying the affair until last month when, while being questioned over accusations of prostitution, she admitted to the tryst and accused Mr. Chakrya, the Adhoc staff and others of pressuring her to lie.
“He is the one who gave the orders and stayed behind the scenes,” Mr. Yentieng said of Mr. Chakrya. “He gave the order to pay the bribes to the witness and succeeded. So he is an accomplice in the bribery.”
Mr. Yentieng went on to claim that Ny Sokha, one of the charged and jailed Adhoc employees, pressured Ms. Chandaraty, better known as Srey Mom, to deny that Kem Sokha had paid for a flight the pair had taken to Thailand together.
“Mr. Ny Sokha, who is the younger brother of Mr. Ny Chakrya, asked and put pressure on Srey Mom to provide false testimony one hour before she appeared in court,” he said.
“And he still promised to provide a bribe. For example, he asked, ‘Srey Mom, is the story that you went to Thailand true?’ And Srey Mom replied, ‘It’s true I went to Thailand.’ He replied, ‘Hey, you should not say it’s true.’ And when he asked who bought the plane ticket when she went to Thailand, she said Mr. Kem Sokha bought it for her.”
“Do you know what else Mr. Chakrya said?” he added, apparently confusing the two brothers and meaning to name Ny Sokha. “He said, ‘Srey Mom, you should say, “Don’t I have the ability to buy my own ticket?” You can say you bought it yourself. Why say someone bought it for you?’”
The ACU chairman said invoices his unit had collected for the $204 that Adhoc paid Ms. Chandaraty to cover her travel expenses—while the NGO was supporting her in her legal battles—were also proof of the bribery.
“We showed the evidence to Mr. Ny Chakrya,” he said. “It is not evidence of corruption, but it is evidence you bribed her to lie.”
Mr. Yentieng said others could still get caught up in the ACU’s dragnet as the probe continued, pointing to Seang Chet, the opposition commune chief arrested over another alleged bribe—$500—promised to Ms. Chandaraty.
“We have the names of some people,” he said. “We need to monitor them more. If we have evidence, we will do more, like commune chief Seang Chet.”
He said that Adhoc president Thun Saray, who has criticized the arrests of his staff, could also find himself a person of interest if he continued to defend his employees.
“If you [Mr. Saray] still defend Adhoc because of the four staff, you will reveal yourself,” he said. “We will collect the evidence piece by piece of whether or not you are involved.”
Mr. Yentieng even made time for Brad Adams, the Asia director for Human Rights Watch, which, along with dozens of other groups, has been highly critical of the ACU’s investigation. Mr. Adams has over the years piqued the ruling CPP’s ire to a degree few other critics have, and Mr. Yentieng took the opportunity to play with his given name, which sounds similar to the Khmer word for evil spirits from hell.
“I want to inform Mr. Hellish Brad, oh sorry, Mr. Brad Adams, who works for Human Wrong, oh sorry, Human Rights—he speaks without reason,” the chairman said.