The Interior Ministry on Sunday accused unspecified foreigners of “trafficking” opposition Senator Thak Lany to Sweden, but said it would be futile to ask Stockholm to send her back.
Ms. Lany, an opposition senator for the legacy Sam Rainsy Party, fled Cambodia soon after Prime Minister Hun Sen sued her in July over a speech in which she allegedly accused him of ordering the July 10 assassination of popular political analyst Kem Ley.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted her in absentia of defamation and incitement on Thursday and sentenced her to 18 months in jail.
After Thursday’s verdict, Ms. Lany’s husband, Chhun Bun San, said that the U.N. had helped get his wife out of the country and that she had been granted political asylum in Sweden. Sweden’s Migration Agency, which handles asylum requests, said Ms. Lany received a residence permit on September 2, but declined to discuss her case further.
Though the prison sentence was accompanied by an arrest warrant, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said on Sunday that Cambodia was unlikely to ask Sweden to extradite the senator.
“It is useless,” he said of an extradition request. “If we ask them to bring [her] back, maybe their people will not follow our request.”
“What is important is we have convicted her in this country,” he added. “She’ll come in time. The arrest warrant is still valid.”
Days after filing his lawsuit, Mr. Hun Sen said he had caught wind of plans Ms. Lany was making to leave Cambodia and publicly warned that she would be arrested if she tried.
It remains unclear exactly how the senator got out of the country. The Bangkok office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees would neither confirm nor deny that it helped, citing agency policy that bars it from commenting on individual cases.
General Sopheak declined to name the U.N., but accused a “foreigner institution” of effectively smuggling her out of Cambodia.
“She had been trafficked by some institution,” he said. “It is a trafficking case.”
Cambodia has in the past asked Interpol to issue a so-called international “red notice” for criminals who have fled the country and whom the government wants to be sent back.
But the head of Cambodia’s Interpol office, Pork Kolkoma, said on Sunday that he was not aware of any plans to ask for a red notice for Ms. Lany.
Ms. Lany was convicted based on a video clip purporting to show her accusing the prime minister of Kem Ley’s murder in a speech to party supporters in Ratanakkiri province.
The senator denies making the accusation and claims the recording was doctored.
She is the fifth opposition lawmaker to be handed jail time by a Cambodian court in the past year in what the U.N. and U.S. have both described as a politically motivated legal assault on government critics ahead of crucial elections.
(Additional reporting by Khuon Narim)