Chea Poch, SRP lawmaker for Prey Veng province, received a summons this week to attend a Sept 29 trial in Phnom Penh for charges of defaming Prince Norodom Ranariddh in 2004, but a court official said yesterday the hearing has been delayed.
Deputy Phnom Penh prosecutor Ek Cheng Huot, who signed the summons, did not give a reason for the delay or a new date for the hearing when contacted yesterday.
Mr Poch is to face trial for allegedly defaming Prince Ranariddh, who sued Mr Poch in 2004. The lawsuit revolved around remarks made by Mr Poch, who alleged that Prince Ranariddh, then president of Funcinpec, had received two airplanes from the CPP in order to form a coalition between the two parties prior to the 2003 elections.
Prince Ranariddh’s attorney, Liv Sovanna, and spokesman, Chea Chan Boribo, could not be reached yesterday. Mao Sophearith, Mr Poch’s attorney, said yesterday that the prince dropped the lawsuit in 2005.
“This case was over because the prince withdrew the lawsuit from the court,” Mr Sophearith said yesterday. “I will write to the court to drop this case because the statute of limitations is over.”
Mr Sophearith added that the National Assembly provided Mr Poch with immunity in 2005, effectively ending the lawsuit.
Mr Cheng Huot, the deputy prosecutor, declined to comment on the statute of limitations, which is three years for misdemeanors. Under the transitional penal code of 1992, the charge carries fines of $250 to $2,500.
SRP spokesman and lawmaker Yim Sovann called the lawsuit’s resurrection “ridiculous.” He said dredging up the six-year-old case against Mr Poch was an attempt to undermine the opposition SRP.
“The…SRP is getting more and more popular from one day to another and the ruling party, the CPP, understands this very clearly,” Mr Sovann said yesterday, adding. “The case is very political but we are not afraid.”
In a separate case, SRP leader Sam Rainsy, currently in self-imposed exile, has been summoned to appear before Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday in a 2008 defamation lawsuit brought by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.
(Additional reporting by Drew Foster)