Insinuations of marital infidelity have once again surfaced to haunt opposition leader Kem Sokha, with audio recordings purported to be phone conversations between the CNRP deputy president and an alleged mistress being disseminated in what appeared to be an orchestrated fashion across social media.
The recordings – the release of which one observer said had the “hallmarks” of a ruling party smear campaign – contain playful exchanges between a woman and a man who sounds remarkably similar to the Cambodia National Rescue Party politician.
The subject matter initially focuses on seemingly intimate meetings and even potential allusions to pregnancy, before later recordings turn to discussions of how the files came to be released publicly.
While some of the exchanges have a playful tone, the text accompanying the recordings posted on two hastily created Facebook pages and a blog are starkly accusatory.
“Kem Sokha has a kid with me. And he does not want to be responsible for it,” one post reads.
“He is a womaniser. I fear my own safety,” reads another.
However, while the textual accusations are written in the voice of the female participant, in later recordings – posted after rumblings of the scandal began to appear in the media yesterday – the woman sounds genuinely surprised by the leaks.
“What should I do?” the woman asks. “They called and said they have the audio of me talking to you,” she said, without naming the caller. “I will die, I will be so embarrassed.”
The man responds that “people are recording my voice”, and advises the woman to “tell people that we just have a normal relationship”.
Multiple calls to Kem Sokha went unanswered yesterday.
This is not the first instance of Sokha being accused of having an affair. In the month prior to the 2013 election, a women purporting to be his mistress showed up at a CNRP rally demanding money for child support.
The woman later claimed she had been beaten by CNRP bodyguards and filed a case to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, however the CNRP deputy leader denied the allegations and refused to be drawn into the purported scandal. The court case never progressed and was seemingly forgotten.
At the time, however, Prime Minister Hun Sen waded into the controversy, calling on Sokha to resolve the case amicably. He also publicly announced that he had evidence that CNRP leaders were having extramarital affairs, including, he said, proof of one lawmaker attempting to pay for sex with an underage girl in 2011.
Early yesterday morning, as the latest Sokha scandal was unfolding, Hun Sen took the opportunity to take a veiled jab at the deputy opposition chief. In a Facebook post, the premier identified himself as a “highly qualified” leader, “unlike some political party leaders who are incompetent and have scandals, which act as a bad model for the society and their supporters”.
However, circumstances surrounding the posting of the recent recordings raise questions.
The first recordings were posted on Monday evening at 5:20pm by a Facebook user named “Mon Srey”, whose account was created just this Sunday, and contains no personal information. Within 30 minutes, the recording had been reposted on a page called The Truth of CNRP, also created on Sunday afternoon.
Meanwhile, a website called CambodianLeaks yesterday published a video of the woman who had accused Sokha of fathering a child with her in the run-up to the 2013 elections.
Shortly after, it began reposting the recordings, some of which bore Photoshopped title cards with headlines and cropped images of Sokha and Mon Srey.
When the 2013 allegations of infidelity surfaced, commentators at the time suggested the ruling party had engaged in a smear campaign to publicly disgrace the opposition. Indeed, at the time, the government’s Press and Quick Reaction Unit posted on its own website an audio interview with Sokha’s purported mistress containing explicit sexual details of their purported relationship.
The interview had previously been conducted on Bayon Television, a station owned by the prime minister’s daughter.
Sebastian Strangio, author of Hun Sen’s Cambodia, said yesterday that the most recent leaks appeared to be “straight from the CPP’s playbook”.
“It has all the hallmarks of an attempt to discredit Sokha by the ruling party,” Strangio said, while noting that the campaign was “not necessarily being coordinated from the very top”.
“Whether it is authentic or not remains to be seen,” he continued, adding that, nonetheless, “I would find it very hard to believe that the CPP’s hand is not on this.”
The Press and Quick Reaction Unit could not be reached late last night for comment on the latest scandal.
For his part, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan yesterday denied his party’s involvement in the Sokha recordings.
“The CPP has never used such an ugly trick,” he said.
Nonetheless, Eysan said he had heard the recordings and was convinced they were real.
“It seems the woman did not really trust him and recorded the audio,” he said.
CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith yesterday declined to comment on the authenticity of the recordings.
”We’re giving priority to the road to the elections, which bring about positive changes,” he said.
But, CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang posted to Facebook Article 301 of the Cambodian Criminal Code, which decrees that listening to or recording private or confidential speech is a punishable offence, except in instances where it has been authorised by law.
Reached by phone, Chhay Eang – like Ponhearith – also declined to comment on the recordings’ authenticity, saying he was not an expert on audio files.
Many Facebook users yesterday cast doubt over the authenticity of the recordings, but social media celebrity Thy Sovantha thought otherwise. In one of the recordings, the man purported to be Sokha is heard denying buying a car and having a relationship with Sovantha.
“She used the CNRP name to do politics and get money and to go abroad,” the man says.
Sovantha took to Facebook yesterday, letting her 1.3 million followers know that she is now weighing her legal options.
“I will meet my lawyer today to examine the procedure of finding the truth from the audio files in which Kem Sokha defames me,” she wrote.
She later posted that she had submitted a claim to the court, but had not identified who the defamation case was against as the audio files needed to be investigated.