Having fallen out of favor with the ruling CPP, minor party leader Nhek Bun Chhay was on Thursday pulled in for questioning at the Phnom Penh municipal police headquarters over a 10-year-old drug case.
Mr. Bun Chhay, 59, a former Funcinpec general during the time the party shared power with the ruling CPP in the 1990s, has faced increasing pressure from the government since he was allegedly caught in a telephone recording in June promising support for the opposition CNRP.
Since being stripped of his government adviser role that month, members of his Khmer National United Party have been sacked from governmental jobs.
Neth Savoeun, the National Police commissioner, said on Thursday afternoon that Mr. Bun Chhay was being questioned at the Phnom Penh municipal police headquarters.
“Police are just implementing a court warrant in connection to making drugs in Kompong Speu” province, Gen. Savoeun said.
In 2007, Mr. Bun Chhay was linked to a drug raid in Kompong Speu, when police seized 400 to 500 kg of a precursor to methamphetamine on a 20-hectare plot of land. Mr. Bun Chhay denied involvement, but a former adviser to Mr. Bun Chhay was named as the landowner.
Municipal court deputy prosecutor Sieng Sok issued a summons for questioning Mr. Bun Chhay yesterday.
The questioning relates to “a case of conspiring to produce illegal drugs, and importing substances to make drugs” in 2007, Mr. Sok said in the summons, which was released last night.
Gen. Savoeun, who initially had said the drug warrant was from 2012, directed questions about why the police were just acting now to the municipal court. Court spokesman Ly Sophanna declined to comment, saying “the question will affect the court process.”
Two KNUP officials—spokesman Run Meatra and personal adviser Mao Phanna—said they were unaware of their boss’ detention. There was no one at Mr. Bun Chhay’s house or the party headquarters to answer questions.
The authorities’ action marks an escalation in the attacks on Mr. Bun Chhay and his party. Last month, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan admitted the government was targeting the former general and his associates after Prime Minister Hun Sen had obtained the leaked phone recording.
“Any official from His Excellency Nhek Bun Chhay’s party who are in government and get paid a government salary must be removed,” Mr. Eysan said at the time. “When partners in friendship aren’t honest with each other, we must end it.”
Yesterday, another ruling party spokesman, Chhim Phal Virun, berated a reporter when asked why the court had brought back an old case just as the ruling party was going after Mr. Bun Chhay and his party.
“You used the word ‘bring back’…. You serve foreigners and your bosses are foreigners. Would you rather serve foreigners or the truth?” Mr. Phal Virun asked.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan could not be reached.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said the legal action clearly showed a failure in the rule of law—as well as separation of powers—in Cambodia.
“This case [exemplifies] the real character or strategy of the tyrant,” Mr. Mong Hay said.
“The tyrant would co-opt some people to boost his reputation. So long as he or she whom the tyrant has co-opted stay and remains loyal and cooperates and remains a positive asset, he will be OK,” he said.
“But if he or she were to display any disloyalty or become…a liability, the tyrant would not hesitate to get rid of him.”
Mr. Mong Hay labeled the police and court’s involvement as “socialist legality.”
“This is not the rule of law but…the use of law as an instrument of power to dispose of such people,” he said.
Pressure was also being felt by the opposition CNRP, he said, which has scrambled to comply with two sets of amendments to the Political Party Law that could lead to the party’s dissolution. He predicted “another year of oppression” ahead of next year’s national election.
(Additional reporting by Van Roeun and Michael Dickison)
Correction: This version of the story clarifies Mr. Bun Chhay’s relationship to Funcinpec and the CPP in the second paragraph.