US Court to Drop Case Against Hun Manet

A U.S. judge is preparing to drop Prime Minister Hun Sen’s eldest son as a defendant in a lawsuit accusing him of the wrongful imprisonment of CNRP official Meach Sovannara, according to Mr. Sovannara’s lawyer.

Mr. Sovannara, a dual Cambodian and U.S. citizen, is suing Lieutenant General Hun Manet, who holds several top military posts, and the Cambodian government for his “arbitrary, extra-legal and long-term detention.” The Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced Mr. Sovannara to 20 years in prison in 2015 for “insurrection” over his alleged role in a 2014 protest that turned violent.

cam photo manet
Hun Manet, the eldest son of Prime Minister Hun Sen, sips champagne during an event at the Council for the Development of Cambodia’s headquarters in Phnom Penh in July. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

However, since his lawyer, Morton Sklar, filed the suit about a year ago, the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California has been deliberating whether it even has jurisdiction.

An American man, Paul Hayes, attempted to serve Lt. Gen. Manet a subpoena while he was in Los Angeles for a visit last April, but says he was attacked by members of the general’s security detail before he could do so. Mr. Sovannara’s team has been trying ever since to convince the court that the attempt should count because Mr. Hayes was blocked by people the general had authority and control over.

Judge George Wu already seemed skeptical that the subpoena had been duly served in February, when he issued a “tentative ruling” that the court had no jurisdiction. He was doubtful the general could be held responsible for what the alleged attackers had done, but agreed to give the plaintiffs another chance to convince him.

After another hearing on Thursday, Judge Wu remained unconvinced, said Mr. Sklar, who was contacted in California.

The judge seemed to have decided on “letting Hun Manet be dismissed from the case based on what he considers inadequate evidence that he was served,” he said. “He’s in the process of dropping Hun Manet as a defendant in the case.”

Mr. Sklar said the decision was not yet official, but that he expected it to happen soon.

“I thought there was a lot of evidence linking Hun Manet to the attack on the process server and I think that was a mistake,” he said of the pending decision.

Mr. Sklar said he had presented the court with evidence that the two attackers he identified were both “associated” with Lt. Gen. Manet and that one of them had even served in the general’s security team in Cambodia.

Lawyers for Lt. Gen. Manet did not reply to requests for comment.

Though disappointed by the court’s leanings, Mr. Sklar said it would have little effect on his team’s efforts to carry on with the same allegations against the Cambodian government, which has been served.

Though foreign governments are generally immune from prosecution in U.S. courts, there are exceptions, and Mr. Sklar hopes to exploit them by transferring the case to a court in Washington D.C., where such cases can be tried.

The Cambodian government has opted out of defending itself, apparently believing that U.S. courts don’t have jurisdiction over the government as a whole, either.

Mr. Sklar said the Los Angeles Police Department also testified on Thursday that its investigation into the attack on Mr. Hayes, the process server, was still ongoing. Mr. Hayes required spinal surgery after the alleged attack. Lt. Gen. Manet has said that his bodyguards did not attack Mr. Hayes and that he must have “somehow tripped and fell.”

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