Convicted “terrorist” turned political hopeful Sourn Serey Ratha was questioned at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday over allegations that he made a death threat against a former party employee, his lawyer said.
The Khmer Power Party (KPP) president, who received a royal pardon for a controversial terrorism conviction in 2015, has been accused of making a veiled death threat against May Sreyleak during a Facebook chat with a group of party members in November, said his lawyer, Sok Sam Oeun.
He said Ms. Sreyleak, who ran the KPP’s rice warehouse in Phnom Penh, filed the complaint on December 12, a few weeks after leaving the party, and accused his client of attempted murder and malicious denunciation.
In the chat, Mr. Serey Ratha cited a common Khmer metaphor, which likened the larvae of a fly to the corrosive influence of a mischievous person, to warn his staff of dangerous insiders.
“Someone said that there is a fly that has laid eggs…and then [Mr. Serey Ratha] said that if a fly lays eggs it has to be chased away,” the lawyer said. “One line of the chat talked about killing the fly, and [Ms. Sreyleak] believed it was about her.”
Mr. Sam Oeun said that Ms. Sreyleak was not the subject of the chat, that neither she nor anyone else was mentioned by name, and that she was not part of the conversation.
He said Mr. Serey Ratha was surprised by the complaint because he and Ms. Sreyleak were not on bad terms. He has asked the court to throw out the case.
Mr. Serey Ratha said he intended his chat remarks to be taken very broadly and that they in no way referred to Ms. Sreyleak.
Ms. Sreyleak could not be reached for comment.
Court spokesman Ly Sophanna said deputy prosecutor Seng Heang was working on the case, but declined to elaborate.
The KPP president is no stranger to the court. As an outspoken critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen while living abroad, Mr. Serey Ratha was convicted in absentia of terrorism-related charges on scant evidence. In a surprising reversal, Mr. Hun Sen arranged for a royal pardon a few months later, clearing the way for his return to Cambodia.
He has since founded the KPP, one of several new parties that some election observers suspect the ruling CPP hopes to use to draw votes away from its main rival, the CNRP, in coming elections.