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Seang Chet (centre) arrives at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday. The opposition commune chief was sentenced to five years in prison for bribing a witness.
Seang Chet (centre) arrives at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday. The opposition commune chief was sentenced to five years in prison for bribing a witness. Hong Menea

Chief swiftly sentenced

A Judge sentenced opposition commune chief Seang Chet to five years in prison yesterday for allegedly bribing the mistress of CNRP vice president Kem Sokha, though the local official’s wife said she hoped Sokha’s recent pardon in a related case was a sign her husband would soon go free.

In a two-minute hearing at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, presiding judge Keo Vandy swiftly convicted the Kampong Cham commune chief, but failed to disclose any details of the evidence or legal reasoning behind his decision.

“The court sentences Seang Chet, 45, male, Cambodian, to five years in prison for bribing a witness in Kampong Cham and Phnom Penh between March 10 and April 2016,” Vandy said.

The verdict – slammed as unjust by Chet and his lawyer – marked the first ruling in a set of cases brought against Chet, four members of rights group Adhoc and one election official for alleged plots to buy the silence of hairdresser Khom Chandaraty after she was named as Sokha’s mistress.

The cases are widely considered politically motivated, with critics accusing the Cambodian People’s Party of using the sex scandal as a pretence to to crack down on opponents.

After the hearing, Chet’s lawyer, Hem Socheat, rubbished the conviction and slammed as baseless the accusation against his client, which centred on $500 donated by CNRP supporters abroad that Chet’s wife offered to Chandaraty’s mother.

Socheat noted the cash, which the defence called a humanitarian gesture, was not taken by the hairdresser’s family anyway.

“The court gave no reasons for the sentence,” Socheat said.

As he was led from the courtroom, Chet, who had already spent 225 days in pretrial detention, also denounced the verdict.

“I did not bribe, I was just asked to bring money from others. I will talk to my lawyers,” Chet said.

But despite the hefty sentence, a recent political deal between the CNRP and CPP yesterday gave Chet’s family cause for hope.

In what the CPP called a “compromise”, Sokha was on Friday granted a royal pardon, quashing his own five-month sentence for refusing to appear at court and answer questions about a “prostitution” case linked to his alleged mistress.

In light of this, Socheat said he planned to file a request for a royal pardon within 10 days.

Chet’s wife, Sreng Khoeun, yesterday said she hoped her husband would be home soon.

“I want him to be released like Kem Sokha,” she said.

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