An opposition commune chief was sent to prison and three senior officials from local rights group Adhoc were questioned late into the night on Wednesday over claims they convinced deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha’s alleged mistress to deny an affair.
With the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) inexplicably investigating the alleged relationship in tandem with anti-terrorism police, Seang Chet, the chief of a commune in Kompong Cham province, was on Sunday arrested after being accused of bribery.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Meas Chanpiseth said on Wednesday that he had questioned Mr. Chet after he was sent to the court by the ACU, and that the court had charged him with bribing the alleged mistress to lie with a promise of $500.
“We already laid charges against him. I am too busy to provide more details,” Mr. Chanpiseth said, explaining only that the charge was “bribery of a witness” under Article 548 of the Criminal Code.
Mr. Chet was taken to Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison for provisional detention on Wednesday and faces five to 10 years in prison if found guilty.
The alleged mistress, Khom Chandaraty, last week recanted almost two months of denials of an affair when questioned at the court over charges of prostitution and false testimony. She accused Mr. Chet, Adhoc, a U.N. official and a women’s rights advocate of convincing her to lie.
Each had been giving 25-year-old Ms. Chandaraty support as she faced multiple rounds of questioning by anti-terrorism police and the courts and have in turn denied that they ever encouraged her to deny having an affair with Mr. Sokha.
Ms. Chandaraty’s mother lives in the commune run by Mr. Chet, and in a public letter released last Friday, the daughter said he had promised to give her $500 if she denied the affair with Mr. Sokha, leading to his arrest by the ACU on Sunday morning.
Mr. Chet’s wife, 43-year-old Sreng Sokhoeun, said it was unjust to describe the money as a “bribe” and said that the money had been delivered by CNRP lawmaker Mao Monyvann as an act of charity.
“It was just a small amount of money, and she did not even receive it. This is very unjust,” Ms. Sokhoeun said.
“He took it from Mao Monyvann. Mao Monyvann told him that the diaspora in Australia had sent it for Srey Mom’s mother, as she was poor,” she added, using a nickname for Ms. Chandaraty.
“I appeal to any organizations to help find justice for my husband,” Ms. Sokhoeun added.
Mr. Monyvann said Ms. Sokhoeun’s account was correct.
“Yes it’s true,” Mr. Monyvann said. “I received the charity money from Cambodian brothers and sisters who live in New Zealand. They pitied Srey Mom’s family because she got into trouble.”
“I am [a] lawmaker for Kompong Cham, so they asked me to take the money to Srey Mom’s mother,” he said. “The commune chief took the money from me, and he said he’d bring it to Srey Mom’s mother.”
With Mr. Chet jailed, the ACU summoned four of its eight other suspects on Wednesday. In the morning, Try Chhuon, the lawyer Adhoc assigned to represent Mr. Chandaraty, and Ny Sokha, chief of monitoring at the rights group, were called into its compound on Norodom Boulevard. Adhoc deputy heads of monitoring Yi Soksan and Nay Vanda entered in the afternoon.
Ms. Chhuon was allowed to leave the ACU at about 11:30 a.m., while the other three were still not released as of 10 p.m.
“They did not have any evidence to inculpate me, but the ACU just took the letter to question me over my duties defending Srey Mom,” Ms. Chhuon said after she emerged from the ACU.
ACU Chairman Om Yentieng declined to comment. “Boss, give me some time to work,” he said.
U.N. official Sally Soen, National Election Committee deputy secretary-general Ny Chakrya, Adhoc senior investigator Lim Mony, and Thida Khus, head of women’s rights group Silika, have all been summoned to be questioned by the ACU today.
Amid the arrests and questionings on Wednesday, 20-year-old political activist Thy Sovantha was also questioned by the municipal court over efforts to sue Mr. Sokha for allegedly defaming her reputation in conversations with a mistress.
“I demanded $1 million,” Ms. Sovantha told reporters. “I am not demanding too much compensation because I don’t want him to repeat the offense, and not to defame other people who are clean. I complained to demand my cleanness.”
Ms. Sovantha, who has called for Mr. Sokha to be charged with sex trafficking for a trip he allegedly took with Ms. Chandaraty to Bangkok, also denied claims she was being instructed by a political benefactor to bring her case against Mr. Sokha.
“There are only people saying this. But my lawsuit is not related to politics. It is only a defamation case,” Ms. Sovantha said. “I filed a suit just to demand justice.”
Ms. Sovantha claims to have been defamed in one of the audio recordings allegedly of telephone calls between Mr. Sokha and one of his mistresses, which were leaked online last month, leading the government to bring its campaign against him.
In the recorded telephone conversations, the man alleged to be Mr. Sokha tells his mistress that he never had an affair with Ms. Sovantha, and says his daughter does not like her because she took money from overseas CNRP supporters.
“We already questioned Thy Sovantha this morning, and after we listened to her we found that it would have benefits for us to continue investigations into the people involved with it,” said deputy municipal court prosecutor Ly Sophanna.
Asked if Mr. Sokha would be summoned to appear in court, Mr. Sophanna hung up his phone.
Mr. Monyvann, the CNRP lawmaker, said the unprecedented investigations into whether Mr. Sokha had a mistress and the claims people were trying to hide the affair, were old-style CPP politicking.
“These actions are identical [to the past]. When it comes close to elections, they start to do the same things to put pressure on the opposition party. It’s the same and the same,” he said.