Last month, it was denying genocide. Then it was adultery with a long-time mistress. Now it is sex with an underage girl.
So continued the government’s scathing attack on opposition leader Kem Sokha on Thursday.
And the national election is still more than a month away.
In the government’s ongoing barrage against the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) acting president, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday accused Mr. Sokha of pedophilia and, with no apparent sense of irony, threatened to sue him for accusing the CPP of dirty election campaigning.
Speaking at the inauguration of the new offices of the National Olympic Center in Phnom Penh, Mr. Hun Sen told a crowd of thousands that in 2011 police informed him of a sexual encounter Mr. Sokha had recently had with a 15-year-old girl.
“I tell you what. Your political life could have been over since my granddaughter’s birthday two years ago, at the end of 2011,” Mr. Hun Sen said, without providing evidence to support his substantial allegation.
“That day, I got an urgent phone call to immediately arrest a lawmaker and president of an opposition party. He was taking a 15-year-old girl and had already paid $500 and was taking her to Micasa Hotel near the riverside. I did not authorize his arrest. If I had, he might accuse us of intervening in his personal life,” the prime minister said, without explaining why he had allowed the alleged crime to continue without intervening.
Besides having sex with an underage girl, Mr. Hun Sen went on to accuse Mr. Sokha, who is married with two adult daughters, of a string of extramarital affairs.
But all the attention has focused on just one of those alleged mistresses: Keo Sophannary, a 41-year-old woman who first went public with her alleged affair in an interview aired by the CPP-owned Apsara TV earlier this month.
Ms. Sophannary claims that Mr. Sokha ended their decadelong relationship five years ago and that she filed a lawsuit against him in February demanding a $10,000 payment to support her and the two children, now 6 and 8 years old, they allegedly adopted together.
Mr. Sokha has denied any knowledge of Ms. Sophannary.
But Mr. Hun Sen on Thursday advised the opposition leader to pay what Ms. Sophannary is demanding.
“Now I give you some advice,” Mr. Hun Sen said.
“Pay her because you had her. Think of it as paying for sexual services. She has already lost her beauty. Your Excellency can either file a complaint against her for defaming you…or you can negotiate in secret and give her the $10,000 to end the case out of court,” the prime minister said.
Mr. Hun Sen also suggested that Mr. Sokha has an illegitimate son and daughter and that he paid their mother $5,000 just last year.
Continuing his tirade, the prime minister then threatened to sue Mr. Sokha for accusing the CPP of putting Ms. Sophannary up to her claims, and for his claims that the CPP is secretly organizing the crowds that have recently been disrupting the CNRP leader’s campaign stops around the country.
“About the mistress, you can say whatever you want, but why did you blame the CPP of staging it? The CPP cannot accept it,” the prime minister said. “The CPP should take a look at legal action because he’s accusing the CPP of using bad tricks. We have the right to sue him, but we should do it after the elections if we want to.”
And despite distancing the CPP from the anti-opposition crowds, Mr. Hun Sen nevertheless urged them to postpone their protests against Mr. Sokha until after the July 28 poll, and called for a peaceful lead-up to election day.
In a statement Thursday, the CNRP welcomed the prime minister’s call for peace.
Contacted by phone, however, Mr. Sokha abjectly denied having the affairs that the prime minister had accused him of.
“I deny all of those claims,” he said.
“We all know it is close to the election, so they try to make trouble for me. I really want to make him [Mr. Hun Sen] to swear on being struck by lightning or dying in a plane crash if what he said is true,” he said.
Dismissing the threat of a lawsuit, he again accused the CPP of being behind both the protests against him, and Mr. Sophannary’s claims of an affair.
Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, declined to comment on the prime minister’s claim that Mr. Sokha had sex with an underage girl.
“I’m not the right person to answer on that,” Lt. Gen. Sopheak said, referring the question to the prime minister’s own cabinet and the Council of Ministers.
Council spokesman Phay Siphan said he did not know what evidence the prime minister had on Mr. Sokha’s alleged relationship with the 15-year-old.
“On this issue, [it is] premature for me to share with you,” Mr. Siphan said. “Whether the evidence is credible or not credible, I have no idea.”
Asked whether it was appropriate for the prime minister to make unsubstantiated public claims of pedophilia against his main opponent in the election, or to have then not acted on credible evidence of child abuse, Mr. Siphan declined to comment.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)