Undeterred by Kem Sokha’s royal pardon on Friday, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday sentenced a CNRP commune chief to five years in prison for bribery relating to the deputy opposition leader’s “prostitution” case.
Seang Chet was accused of bribing Mr. Sokha’s alleged mistress, Khom Chandaraty, to lie about the case when he gave her mother 2 million riel, or about $500, at the family’s home in Kompong Cham province’s Kompong Siem district.
Mr. Chet has maintained that he was simply handing over money collected by Cambodians in New Zealand who had sympathized with the plight of Ms. Chandaraty’s family, and was not attempting to alter her answers under questioning by officials.
Ms. Chandaraty, a 25-year-old manicurist, initially denied having an affair with Mr. Sokha under police questioning, but then admitted to the affair when questioned in court, according to officials.
The case—widely seen as a political attack on the opposition—has rolled on despite its primary target, Mr. Sokha, being pardoned of his prison sentence at the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen last week.
On Monday, Presiding Judge Kor Vandy gave no explanation of the verdict as he handed the prison sentence to Mr. Chet, the chief of Kompong Siem district’s Srak commune.
But with the pardon granted to Mr. Sokha, Mr. Chet and those around him rallied around the idea that more were coming.
“We will request a pardon for Mr. Seang Chet because Mr. Seang Chet did not commit the bribing of a witness,” said Mr. Chet’s lawyer, Hem Socheat, after the sentencing.
Sreng Sokhoeun, Mr. Chet’s wife, said she had expected her husband to be released.
“It was a shock,” Ms. Sokhoeun said. “It is not appropriate and the court should release him. There’s no evidence to inculpate my husband.”
She said she wanted to see her husband absolved just as Mr. Kem Sokha had been, because it was the same case.
Mr. Chet told reporters as he was being escorted into a prison truck that he had simply been caught in political crossfire and hoped that a political solution would set him free.
“I hope the two parties will negotiate and get along with each other soon and request the king to pardon me,” Mr. Chet said.
Mao Monyvann, the CNRP lawmaker who gave the money to Mr. Chet to deliver to Ms. Chandaraty’s mother, was circumspect when asked if the party would take action to secure Mr. Chet’s release from prison.
“We don’t want to make more comments because the political situation is heading toward resolution,” Mr. Monyvann said.
Many observers have speculated that a political deal between Mr. Hun Sen and Mr. Sokha led to the deputy opposition leader’s pardon, though Mr. Sokha and a CPP spokesman have denied that any such deal was struck.
Mr. Sokha had locked himself into his party’s headquarters since May to avoid arrest in the case.
Audio recordings posted anonymously to Facebook supposedly showed him engaging in overtly sexual conversations with Ms. Chandaraty. Seizing on offers of gifts made to the alleged mistress, anti-terrorism police and the courts drummed up a charge of prostitution against her. Mr. Sokha was sentenced to five months in prison in September for refusing to appear for questioning.
Four officers from rights group Adhoc and an election official are also currently in jail after being charged for allegedly bribing Ms. Chandaraty to deny the affair while they were providing legal counsel to her.