The Ministry of Justice has formally requested that the National Assembly strip the immunity of two opposition lawmakers swept up in the ongoing Kem Sokha prosecution so they can face charges related to prostitution.
In a letter dated June 30, Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana refers to a request made to him the day before by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in asking Assembly President Heng Samrin to lift the immunity of Cambodia National Rescue Party parliamentarians Pin Ratana and Tok Vanchan.
The request cites article 80 of the constitution and article 8 of the statute governing lawmakers.
The move is a rarity in that a string of recent opposition lawmaker arrest warrants have sidestepped the need to lift immunity altogether by citing a loophole in the constitution under which prosecutions can proceed if the targets were caught “in flagrante delicto” or “in the act.”
Ratana and Vanchan, lawmakers for Kandal and Battambang, respectively, are “suspects in the penal case dated March 18, 2016, [related to] ‘prostitution’ under article 284 of the penal code,” the minister’s letter states.
“Based on the request of Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutors and in order for the court to be able to continue implementing the law following existing procedure and to strengthen Cambodia’s rule of law, the Ministry of Justice would like to request Samdech Ponhea Chakrey, president of the National Assembly, to please check and continue the procedure to lift the immunity of lawmakers Tok Vanchan and Pin Ratana.”
Vathana separately attached a statement from the municipal court, which for the first time revealed details of testimony given by Khom Chandaraty, aka Srey Mom, 26, the alleged mistress of acting CNRP president Sokha.
The testimony, which came over the course of two separate hearings, offers what Chandaraty contends are dates of alleged trysts with Sokha and evidence that Vanchan and Ratana had facilitated the romantic encounters.
“Based on her testimony, Khom Chandaraty, aka Srey Mom, left for Thailand two times, first on November 30, 2015, and second on February 1, 2016, and stayed at Centre Point hotel in the same room with Kem Sokha. During their stays, his excellency Kem Sokha had sex with Khom Chandaraty, aka Srey Mom,” the court statement, dated June 29, reads.
“Leaving for both trips to have sex with Kem Sokha was arranged by Tok Vanchan (first trip) and Pin Ratana (second trip), including arranging flight tickets, traveling together to meet Kem Sokha at the hotel and luring her by saying she would be getting benefits from Kem Sokha after having affairs and sex with him,” reads the municipal court statement.
“The first time they had sex in Thailand, Kem Sokha promised to provide $3,000, buy a house and open a salon business for Khom Chandaraty. However, the first time, Kem Sokha gave only $300 and the second time only $400.”
Chandaraty has filed a separate lawsuit seeking $300,000 from Sokha.
The court also referred to records from the Department of Immigration and data from Bangkok Airways as evidence they were receiving collaboration from Thai authorities. The leaked audio conversations purportedly between the two that started the scandal were also offered as proof of wrongdoing.
The court proved that there are “facts that the sexual relationship between Kem Sokha and Khom Chandaraty [was] in exchange for benefits and money arranged by … Tok Vanchan and Pin Ratana.”
The court mentioned that prostitution carries a potential sentence of two to five years in jail and a fine of 4 million 10 million riels, about $1,000 to $2,500.
In referring to the issue of immunity, the court specifically concedes that the case against the lawmakers is “not a red-handed crime” and so asks the assembly to consider it according to the constitution and relevant legislation governing lawmakers.
National Assembly spokesman Leng Peng Long told the Post that the Justice Ministry letter had been received on Friday and reported to the assembly’s permanent committee.
“The standing committee will hold a meeting on this issue to decide about it,” he said.
“The National Assembly will examine the request of the Ministry of Justice … to remove the lawmakers’ immunity. It requires two-thirds of the National Assembly to vote [in favour].”
What is not immediately apparent is how that would be possible given that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party no longer holds two-thirds of the seats in the assembly in the wake of the 2013 election.
Neither CNRP spokesmen Yem Ponhearith and Yim Sovann nor the accused lawmakers could be reached.