Deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha will be put on trial for twice failing to appear in court as a witness in a prostitution case against his own alleged mistress, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court said in a letter dated Tuesday and posted outside the politician’s house on Wednesday.
Heavily armed police attempted to arrest Mr. Sokha on May 26, the same day he skipped the second summons, and he has since been staying in the CNRP’s headquarters in Phnom Penh to avoid further arrest attempts. Investigating Judge Thann Leng announced that he charged Mr. Sokha with “refusal to appear,” which carries a prison sentence of one to six months.
“We completely finished the investigation and decided to send the case to trial,” said the latest letter from the judge to Mr. Sokha. “So please be informed.”
The letter did not indicate when a trial might be held, and Judge Leng could not be reached. Court spokesman Ly Sophanna declined to comment because he was on a work trip to Malaysia.
Sam Sokong, one of Mr. Sokha’s attorneys, said he expected the road to trial to be long, as lawyers would appeal the closing order, or indictment, to the Supreme Court.
Mr. Sokong said he and Mr. Sokha’s lawyers had spoken with the acting opposition leader on Wednesday. “His stance was to first request that the lawyers study and review the legal path and, most importantly, he wanted the lawyers to file an appeal complaint against the closing order,” he said.
The lawyer said it was too soon to say whether Mr. Sokha would attend a trial if the appeal process proved futile.
Mr. Sokha became embroiled in a scandal in March as recordings began to appear online, apparently of him speaking with a mistress—the conversations included references to sex, promises of expensive gifts and banal flirting.
The government began an investigation into the audio clips, identifying the woman in the recordings as a 25-year-old hairdresser. Four officers with rights group Adhoc and an election official have been imprisoned for more than three months now for their involvement in allegedly bribing the woman to deny the affair.
With CNRP President Sam Rainsy living in France to avoid a two-year prison sentence in an unrelated defamation case, the opposition has effectively been left without a public leader, said Pa Nguon Teang, a political observer and director of the Voice of Democracy news outlet.
“If Kem Sokha will be arrested, I think that will have even more effect on the opposition’s activities. But at the same time…if the arrest of Kem Sokha happens, that will attract more supporters to pay attention and support the opposition,” he said.
Unless the political climate changes significantly, Mr. Nguon Teang said the judiciary would likely keep pressing ahead.
“When there is no political resolution between the CNRP and the ruling party, I think the court will proceed with the case,” he said. “Kem Sokha cannot avoid arrest if there is no political compromise.”
(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)