A decade after returning to a leadership role in the opposition, claiming to have kicked a potentially problematic gambling habit, photographs were released online on Wednesday of CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang apparently placing bets at NagaWorld casino in Phnom Penh.
Photographs of the lawmaker and CNRP official Thach Setha at electronic roulette tables were posted to the Facebook page of a user named “Sei Ha,” and then quickly republished online by the government mouthpiece Fresh News. A message accompanying the photos, which appear to have been taken recently, says Mr. Chhay Eang is a “gambling addict who does not care about National Assembly meetings or going to solve issues for people in his province.”
Mr. Chhay Eang stepped down as secretary-general of the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) in 2005, citing ill health and a gambling problem that he said could potentially expose the party to political attacks. Stepping back into the role in 2007, he said he had kicked the habit.
“It was my personal problem. It should not have an effect on the party. I do not have a mistress or gamble in casinos—I don’t hide my activities,” he said at the time. “I won’t let the party and the people down.”
The next day, opposition-aligned labor union leaders said they were not satisfied.
“I do not support Eng Chhay Eang because he has a bad habit—he is addicted to gambling,” Free Trade Union president Chea Mony said.
The SRP responded with a statement saying the lawmaker was a changed man. “Our party wants to stress that his gambling habit belongs to the past,” it said.
Mr. Chhay Eang said on Thursday that he had no desire to comment on the newly released photographs, which he described as a “private” issue.
“If each individual’s privacy was used for defamation like this, it’s inappropriate,” he said, adding that personal attacks were distracting politicians from focusing on important national issues.
“I do not want to comment on this because they should take a big thing to discuss, like Dr. Kem Ley’s assassination. Why is this so quiet?” he asked of the political analyst murdered in July, in what many believe was a state-sponsored hit.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said he was aware of the Facebook post, and expected it to be damaging for his colleagues in the opposition.
“It’s illegal because the law bans Khmer citizens” from gambling at casinos in Cambodia, he said. “I think a lot or a little, it will affect the honor and reputation of those excellencies.”