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Complainant absent from Ath Thorn case

The leader of Cambodia’s largest independent garment union appeared in Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday as the defendant in a civil case brought by a former member demanding his removal.

At the trial against the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union’s (C.CAWDU) president Ath Thorn, vice president Kong Athit and secretary-general Ek Sopheakdey, attorney Som Chamreun, who is representing former member Um Visal, claimed scandal caused by the leadership is running the union into the ground.

“Thorn’s leadership style has caused the union to lose trust and money from the donors and members,” said Chamreun.

Visal did not appear in court.

Chamreun claimed that Thorn embezzled $120,000 in union dues in 2009, providing the judge with documents alleging support for the accusation. He also said Thorn’s reduction of committees in the union gave the president more power, breeding corruption.

Visal’s lawyer asked Phnom Penh Municipal judge Li Lim Meng to immediately remove the trio from power and promote someone new into the leadership positions.

A decision on the case has yet to be reached.

In an interview after the trial, Visal said he did not want to lead C.CAWDU – but knew what he would do if put in charge.

“If the court decides to allow me to be president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), I will create a committee to control all the process of C.CAWDU, but not be the leader,” Visal said. “I would reform all laws of C.CAWDU.”

After the trial, Thorn said Visal has no evidence of any wrongdoing.

Visal, he added, became embittered after his second bid for the union’s presidency.

Thorn also said that under his watch, the union gained 20,000 members and doubled the money collected in dues to $4,000 per month since 1999.

In a separate case, the Court of Appeal on Tuesday rejected Thorn’s appeal for the terms of his bail for a charge of incitement. He will appeal to the Supreme Court next week, he said.

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