A lawyer organising a civil case in the US against Hun Manet for the “unlawful imprisonment” of CNRP official Meach Sovannara said he will soon lodge a motion to pursue a default judgment, after Manet failed to respond to a court summons.
US-based attorney Morton Sklar said yesterday that the deadline had passed for the prime minister’s eldest son, who was issued a summons by process server Paul Hayes while in California on April 9. Manet maintains he was not made aware of the court summons and complaint until reading about it in subsequent news reports.
Hayes, who was allegedly assaulted by Manet’s bodyguards, claims he properly served the documents, which stipulate a 21-day window to respond.
“The next step is that the Plaintiffs must ask the court to issue what is called an entry of default,” said Sklar via email, calling it the “first step” to obtain a default judgment in the absence of Manet’s response.
“I prepared that set of motions and pleadings this past week. They will be filed shortly.”
A phone number for Manet, a lieutenant general in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, was not answered yesterday. A Defence Ministry spokesman also did not answer calls.
According to the Federal Court system’s online database, no responses have yet to be lodged in the case, which has been assigned to judge George H Wu.
The complaint, lodged at a US federal court in California, accuses Manet, as well as the Cambodian government, of torture through arbitrary detention, acts of international terrorism and false imprisonment, among other offences.
Sovannara, a dual Cambodian-American citizen, is among 14 people locked up for participating in a July 2014 anti-government protest at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park that turned violent.
Sentenced to 20 years in prison for “leading an insurrection”, Sovannara is a victim of a “systematic and long-standing campaign of persecution” by the Cambodian government designed to crush political opposition, the complaint alleges.
The 39-page filing argues Manet plays a “major role” in the security apparatus that confronted protesters in Freedom Park by virtue of his rank, family connections and position within the leadership’s “inner circle”.
The filing contends the financial and emotional impact on the CNRP official’s wife and children, who live in Long Beach, California, invoke the court’s jurisdiction, and also claims the case falls within an exemption of the Foreign Sovereign Immunity act.
Speaking yesterday, government spokesman Phay Siphan, however, rejected the suggestion that the US court could intervene in Sovannara’s case, which he said was handled correctly under Cambodian law.
“For this case [in the US], I don’t think there will be an effect on the Cambodian government as well as Hun Manet in relation to Meach Sovannara,” Siphan said, characterising the case as political.
“If they’re jailed in Cambodia, they have to be tried in Cambodia . . . It is the law of the land.”
Sklar, who noted the Cambodian government had longer to respond to the complaint than Manet for diplomatic reasons, drew a parallel to the 2005 case lodged against Prime Minister Hun Sen by US citizen Ron Abney at a US federal court over the 1997 grenade attack in which he was injured.
A non-response by the premier led to an order for a default judgment being lodged, at which time Hun Sen engaged a New York law firm to counter the suit, which accused the premier and his Bodyguard Unit of involvement.
The case was later settled as part of a political deal.
“Logic would suggest that Hun Manet would have learned from that mistake and would not choose to be subjected to a default judgement in the present case,” Sklar said.