After weeks of summoning, questioning and arresting an unlikely ensemble of people linked to a sex scandal involving CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday made its first direct move against the deputy opposition leader, calling him to appear over a defamation complaint.
Two other CNRP lawmakers were also summoned as “suspects” in a widely criticized case that has now seen an opposition commune chief, four human rights workers and an election official jailed.
Ly Sophanna, a spokesman for the court’s prosecutors, confirmed that deputy prosecutor Keo Socheat issued a warrant to summon Mr. Sokha to appear on May 11 over a complaint filed by political activist Thy Sovantha, who claims that Mr. Sokha defamed her in a private conversation with a mistress, recordings of which were leaked online.
“Mr. Keo Socheat has issued the warrant to summon him. It was already sent to him but I do not remember the specific date. It’s involved with complaints made by Ms. Thy Sovantha,” Mr. Sophanna said.
Mr. Socheat, who questioned Ms. Sovantha, 20, at the municipal court last week, declined to comment on the case.
The source of the recordings has not been part of the government’s sprawling investigation into the case, and how a private telephone conversation could be considered defamation has yet to be explained. To be punishable, the law says the defamation must be made in a public place, be in writing or a photograph released to the public, or be in audio-visual form intended for the public.
On Monday, deputy prosecutor Sieng Sok issued two separate warrants for Tok Vanchan and Pin Rotana—CNRP lawmakers in Kandal and Battambang provinces, respectively—to appear on May 16 as suspects in the case, although Mr. Sophanna declined to explain their link to the alleged affair between Mr. Sokha and Khom Chandaraty.
Neither Mr. Vanchan nor Mr. Rotana could be reached for comment.
Opposition lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang criticized the amount of weight the court was giving to a letter from Ms. Chandaraty, in which she admitted to the affair with Mr. Sokha and claimed various human rights workers and opposition politicians initially convinced her to deny it.
“This story is not new,” he said. “The letter is equal to a letter of the queen in feudal eras, when the power was in the hand of the queen.”
The court action against Mr. Sokha and his fellow lawmakers came after four senior officers from local rights group Adhoc and a former officer who now works for the National Election Committee (NEC) were imprisoned on Monday on bribery charges.
The four Adhoc officers—head of monitoring Ny Sokha, his deputies Nay Vanda and Yi Soksan, and senior investigator Lim Mony—were arrested along with NEC deputy secretary-general Ny Chakrya last week by the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), which has been leading the investigation into the scandal.
Sam Sokong, a lawyer for Mr. Chakrya, said he and lawyers for the accused Adhoc employees would file a motion to have the five released on bail, adding that no evidence had been presented by the ACU or the court proving that any crime had been committed.
“If you look clearly, there seems to be no basis to charge him, and no one was impacted. It is involved with an isolated love affair, and it’s not related to corruption,” he said.
U.N. official Sally Soen was also charged in absentia as an accomplice to the alleged bribery after failing to present himself for questioning.
Theam Chanpiseth, the investigating judge who laid the charge against Mr. Soen, declined to say whether an arrest warrant had been issued for the U.N. official.
Wan-Hea Lee, head of the U.N.’s local human rights office, declined to say whether Mr. Soen was still in the country. She said the government had not responded to a letter from her office arguing that Mr. Soen was immune from prosecution as a U.N. employee.
Ms. Sovantha, whose defamation complaint prompted the initial investigation into the sex scandal, took to Facebook yesterday to apologize to the opposition faithful.
“I apologize to my brothers and sisters who support the CNRP. I did not want to file a complaint against Mr. Kem Sokha, but he has done too much over three years,” she wrote in a post, accusing him of attempting to eject her from party marches and public forums.
“I have been patient, bitten my lip, shed tears for many years. I cannot stand having Kem Sokha look down on me anymore. I will make the campaign for Kem Sokha to step down very soon,” she said.