The Supreme Court in a heated session Wednesday denied a request by Sam Rainsy’s lawyer to postpone a hearing concerning the opposition leader’s allegations that Prime Minister Hun Sen was involved in a 1997 grenade attack on an opposition rally that left at least 15 dead and 150 wounded.
Despite pleas from lawyer Som Chandina, the court said it would not wait for Sam Rainsy to return from exile to begin its appeal hearing, but would instead go ahead with proceedings to determine whether the opposition leader has enough evidence to bring suit against Hun Sen.
It also said it would announce its decision on Sept 14, the day the opposition leader has said he will return to Cambodia.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court and the Appeals Court have already declined to hear Sam Rainsy’s case, arguing that he lacked evidence. Som Chandina had appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn the lower courts’ decisions.
If the Supreme Court also rejects the opposition leader’s appeal, it could clear the way for the prime minister to pursue a defamation case against Sam Rainsy, Som Chandina said.
“They have no legal ground, the [US Federal Bureau of Investigation] report cannot legally force the court to charge the premier,” said Supreme Court Prosecutor-General Choun Sunleng of Sam Rainsy’s case.
Choun Sunleng also dismissed a US Senate investigation and articles by the Washington Post newspaper and United Press International—all of which suggested at the time that forces loyal to Hun Sen were involved in the attacks—arguing that they rely too heavily on the FBI report.
Choun Sunleng also said that those directly responsible for the attacks must be found and tried before those who planned it can be prosecuted.
The FBI investigated the grenade attack because a US national was among those wounded. The opposition, however, has long charged that the US suppressed its findings in order to protect officials who were allegedly involved.
Police have not convicted anyone in connection with the attacks, but Choun Sunleng said this did not indicate a lack of will to solve the case.
The prosecutor also dismissed an anonymously distributed DVD that shows two men allegedly involved in the attacks confessing to their crime.
“The Sam Rainsy Party hired them to confess,” Choun Sunleng said.
Som Chandina questioned why authorities had done so little to investigate the case.
“Did the prosecutors, courts and police work on it?” he asked the court, claiming that Sam Rainsy had compiled most of the evidence himself.
“The case was made to be forgotten…. Do we still not have suspects?” he also asked.
If Hun Sen had wanted Sam Rainsy dead, said Ka Savuth, a lawyer representing the prime minister, “four or five bodyguards—not even 20 trucks of them could have defended him,” he said.