Five human rights workers, a U.N. official and an election organizer were on Monday summoned by Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) Chairman Om Yentieng for questioning about claims that deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha had an extramarital relationship.
In the latest twist in Mr. Yentieng’s vigorous investigations into the alleged affair, which has contrasted sharply with the ACU’s seemingly sparse inquiries into claims of state corruption, the anti-graft czar held a press conference to say he believed a cover-up was afoot.
Mr. Sokha’s alleged mistress, Khom Chandaraty—commonly known by her nickname “Srey Mom”—last week accused an opposition commune chief, Seang Chet, of promising her $500 to deny the affair, an allegation that Mr. Yentieng said the official had admitted to after his arrest Sunday.
Like Ms. Chandaraty, Mr. Chet indicated that the eight other individuals now summoned were involved in the cover-up, according to Mr. Yentieng, who said he would detain the commune chief for the 48 hours allowed by law.
“This morning, we issued letters summoning eight more people,” added Mr. Yentieng, who prior to the ACU’s creation in 2010 had long served as one of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s closest advisers.
Mr. Yentieng declined to name the eight but said that one was present at the press conference, and then threatened to make more arrests.
“Don’t fail to show up,” he said. “The law says if you fail to appear once, the second time we bring you in.”
Local rights group Adhoc had been providing Ms. Chandaraty with lawyers for her questioning until Friday, when she rescinded her denials while being questioned for “prostitution” and then claimed Mr. Chet, Adhoc and two others had convinced her to lie.
Ny Sokha, head of monitoring for Adhoc, identified the eight people summoned by the ACU as seven human rights workers named by Ms. Chandaraty in a letter released last week, as well as a National Election Committee (NEC) official whom she had not accused.
Mr. Sokha said the eight included five officials from his organization: himself, his deputies as head of monitoring, Nay Vanda and Yi Soksan, senior investigator Lim Mony and lawyer Try Chhuon, who had been representing Ms. Chandaraty in court.
He identified the others as NEC deputy secretary-general Ny Chakrya—who used to work as Adhoc’s head of monitoring—as well as U.N. human rights official Sally Soen and Thida Khus, head of women’s advocacy group Silaka.
Ms. Khus confirmed that she had received an ACU summons on Monday and said she was concerned given the seeming political nature of recent events.
“It is in reference to…Article 25 and 26 of the Anti-Corruption Law. They are asking me to come on the 28th at 9 a.m. to answer some of their questions in relation to Khom Chandaraty,” Ms. Khus said.
“I had some concerns, and after the ACU press conference this morning I am very worried, as they can hold people for 48 hours before pressing charges. I will see my lawyer tomorrow and follow his advice.”
Articles 25 and 26 of the Anti-Corruption Law give the ACU powers to conduct investigations into claims of corruption, to suspend officials from their positions, and to detain people if deemed necessary.
Wan-Hea Lee, country representative for the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), confirmed that Sally Soen, one of those accused by Ms. Chandaraty, worked for the office.
“OHCHR has received a summons from the ACU,” Ms. Lee wrote in an email on Monday. “A response from the UN system will be sent in due course. The contacts that have taken place with Ms ‘Srey Mom’ have been entirely appropriate and consistent with UN work for the protection of human rights.”
Mr. Chakrya, the elections official, declined to comment. Adhoc head Thun Saray also declined to be interviewed about the summoning of his staff, while Mr. Vanda, who attended Mr. Yentieng’s press conference, declined to comment afterward. Adhoc has scheduled a press conference today to discuss the summonses.
Political analysts have said they believe the government’s pursuit of the case against Mr. Sokha is motivated by a desire to behead the CNRP of its leadership.
At his press conference on Monday, Mr. Yentieng of the ACU also denied he was engaging in a practice used by the Khmer Rouge of using fear to coerce confessions from person after person, forcing them to implicate others in the wrongdoing.
The comparison was made on Sunday by CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang, who noted that the sequence of events that led to Mr. Chet’s arrest gave the appearance that coercion and plea deals were at play.
Until last Tuesday, Ms. Chandaraty had denied the affair claims. She then recanted the denials while being threatened with the prostitution charges. She implicated Mr. Chet in the scandal for promising her $500, who in turn implicated Mr. Chhay Eang for ordering him to do so.
Mr. Yentieng said this was simply investigative work and that Mr. Chet himself was on the ACU’s side.
“You know, this morning me and [Mr. Chet] had beef noodles together. You know what he said?” Mr. Yentieng asked. “He said he was angry with his boss who killed him…by ordering him to do that.”
“He said that even though they knew he had relatives in common with Srey Mom, they still ordered him to do that,” he added. “He asked: ‘What kind of boss is it who orders him to be put in jail?’”
Asked whether he was referring to Mr. Chhay Eang, and whether the ACU would pursue the lawmaker for arrest despite his immunity from prosecution, Mr. Yentieng said it may not be worth the trouble.
“We don’t want to be involved with the immune guy. He’s yelling like a child, having a tantrum like a child, and it’s hard to talk with him,” he said.
It remains unclear in what way the commune chief’s alleged promise to pay $500 to Ms. Chandaraty’s family amounted to an act of state corruption.
Committee for Free and Fair Elections executive director Koul Panha asked why the anti-corruption body was not investigating the repeated accusations of massive state corruption in Cambodia.
“I really question this procedure, asking human rights defenders to answer a case from the ACU. The mandate of the ACU, I thought, was corruption, and I am very confused about this,” Mr. Panha said.
“The ACU was very quick—more quick than normal in its actions. Even on a Sunday, they were doing their job. People are asking questions. They can see the flow of these aggressive actions,” he added.
Mr. Panha’s questions were shared by opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who is living in self-imposed exile in France to avoid a prison sentence.
“This Anti-Corruption Unit is showing its real face as a CPP’s tool playing the role of an Anti-Opposition and Anti-NGO Unit,” Mr. Rainsy said in an email.