The scandal surrounding the discovery of a Kompong Speu province drug laboratory, and the arrest of officials allegedly linked to it, spilled into the National Assembly’s opening session Wednesday, with CPP lawmakers rushing to the defense of Assembly President Heng Samrin.
In the Assembly’s inaugural session at its new premises, SRP lawmaker Son Chhay raised temperatures when he said the body had been tarnished by the arrest of Heng Samrin’s adviser Oum Chhay, who allegedly jumped to his death in police custody last month.
“There has been an arrest of an adviser to the National Assembly president and the adviser is already dead,” Son Chhay said.
“The drugs have affected the reputation of the National Assembly,” he said. “There was also a rumor saying that a deputy prime minister was also involved,” he added.
Funcinpec Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay, who is also a deputy prime minister, has for months strenuously protested his innocence following the arrest last month of a suspect who was formerly his adviser.
Heng Samrin remained silent in the face of Son Chhay’s comments; however other CPP lawmakers came to his defense.
Nguon Nhel, the Assembly’s deputy president, said Heng Samrin was not responsible for Oum Chhay’s actions.
“Those who committed the crime must be responsible before the law,” he said.
“You cannot say that when they commit crimes their superiors must be responsible. Even after the children leave a family, the parents are not responsible [for them]. We should praise the government, which cracked down on the drugs,” Nguon Nhel said.
CPP Finance and Banking Commission chair Cheam Yeap said the National Assembly was unaffected by the scandal, and cautioned Son Chhay about his comments.
“I am sitting in the National Assembly. We didn’t do the drug trafficking,” he said. “The criminals must be responsible before the law.”
Cheam Yeap also reminded Son Chhay that he had been reprimanded by the Assembly in the past over his comments about other public figures.
“It seems Son Chhay is not afraid of punishment,” he said. “Your comment might make people think the National Assembly was involved in drugs.”
The testy exchange occurred prior to the Assembly’s unanimous, 93-vote adoption of a resolution to ratify the 1972 protocol amending the UN’s 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
Joining in the exchange, Funcinpec lawmaker Sin Pinsen and SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann both questioned the authorities’ handling of the drug case.
Sin Pinsen said he suspected authorities had advance knowledge of the drug laboratory, which was raided by police in April but where drugs had yet to be produced despite the presence of tons of precursor chemicals.
“I suspected the authorities because when the drug producers started to produce, they arrested them,” he said.
Yim Sovann said the investigation should not end simply because Oum Chhay was dead.
“When a person dies, it does not mean the investigation is finished,” he said.
The Interior Ministry said on Aug 21 that following his arrest, Oum Chhay, owner of Chhay Chhay Investment Ltd, eluded three police officers assigned to guard him and leapt to his death from a second-story window at the anti-drug department’s offices.
Son Chhay also called on Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana to update the body about the investigation into the alleged methamphetamine laboratory.
Addressing the Assembly, Ang Vong Vathana spoke about drug interdiction in Cambodia in general terms but referred questions on the Kompong Speu laboratory investigation to National Police Deputy Chief Teng Savong, who was also present at the meeting but did not answer questions related to the case.