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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - No show by Bar panel members stalls probe into opposition lawyer

No show by Bar panel members stalls probe into opposition lawyer

Inspector says he wants no part in review of SRP lawyer Kong Sam Onn, who is fighting charges he breached Bar ethics in lawsuit against PM.

SAM Rainsy Party lawyer Kong Sam Onn appeared before an inspection team at the Cambodian Bar Association for the first time Monday as part of an investigation into accusations that he breached the Bar's professional code of ethics.

Kong Sam Onn, who is representing opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua in her defamation lawsuit against Prime Minister Hun Sen, was himself accused of defamation by Hun Sen's lawyers following comments he made at a press conference on April 23.

IF KONG SAM ONN IS PUNISHED, MY STANCE MUST BE TO DEFEND HIM...

But the hearing at the Bar Association's Phnom Penh office was postponed when two of the five-member inspection team failed to show up, with one absent lawyer saying he did not want to participate in the investigation.

Lawyer Hem Socheat, a member of the inspection team who was absent, told the Post that Kong Sam Onn had done nothing wrong, and that he did not want to sit on the review panel.

"I tried to escape getting involved with the investigation into his case two or three times but they still tried to call me," he said.

"If Kong Sam Onn is punished, my stance must be to defend him on behalf of other lawyers."

During the aborted meeting, at which he was to answer questions relating to the case, Kong Sam Onn said he hoped the Bar would judge him fairly and that Hun Sen's involvement  would have no impact on the case.

"I think that the Bar will decide my case legally if there's no pressure from politicians. I didn't do anything illegal, and the Bar will rule properly if there is no pressure," he said.

Once the inspection team finishes its work, it will send its report to the 19-member Bar Council to make a final ruling on the case. If found guilty of misconduct, Kong Sam Onn faces dismissal from the Bar.

Battle in the courts

Mu Sochua is suing Hun Sen for comments he made during a speech in Kampot province on April 4.

The opposition party leader says Hun Sen referred to her as cheung klang - a term meaning "strong legs" in Khmer, but which she says is derogatory when used to describe women.

In response, Hun Sen is countersuing for defamation, saying his remarks did not refer to Mu Sochua.

The SRP lawmaker and her lawyer have since received support from abroad in their clash with Hun Sen.

In a letter to Bar President Chiv Song Hak dated Thursday, Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada, a Vancouver-based NGO, said:  "We wish to offer our moral support to the Bar Association ... in fulfilling its function to uphold and defend the independence of the legal profession."

"We sincerely and respectfully hope that the [Bar Association] and its Disciplinary Council will not be used inappropriately."

Bar spokesman Ly Tay Seng could not be reached for comment Monday. 

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