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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sovannara suit in US has no authority over gov’t: lawyer

Sovannara suit in US has no authority over gov’t: lawyer

Cambodia's government has chosen to ignore a lawsuit lodged against it in the United States by the California-based family of imprisoned opposition figure and dual US-Cambodian citizen Meach Sovannara, a lawyer in the case said yesterday.

The lawsuit – which also names the prime minister’s eldest son, Lieutenant General Hun Manet, as a defendant – maintains Sovannara’s 20-year prison sentence in Cambodia for his involvement in a 2014 opposition rally that turned violent is unlawful and amounts to torture.

The government received official notification of the case in August, according to a postage receipt seen by the Post, and had til the end of October to respond, according to both parties.

Though Manet hired a US law firm to contest the suit after it was lodged at a California federal district court in April, the government will not formally respond, said Manet’s lawyer, Christopher Beres, who relayed the government's stance.

“The Kingdom’s position is that as a foreign sovereign it is immune from this lawsuit; it does not acknowledge the purported service of process and complaint,” said Beres, a legal adviser for Sciaroni & Associates representing Hun Manet, via email.

“This is the Kingdom’s prerogative. Any default judgment or award granted by the US court would be void ab initio [from the outset] because the Kingdom is not subject to the authority of the US court.”

Beres said the government’s position did not preclude it from challenging the court’s authority via legal avenues at a later date.

Via email yesterday, Morton Sklar, a US lawyer for Sovannara, said the decision not to respond was “totally illogical” and a “serious mistake”.

News of the government’s decision comes after Sklar confirmed that opposition lawmaker Nhay Chamroeun, who was assaulted by troops from the Premier’s Bodyguard Unit, would join the action as a plaintiff.

A previous version of this article stated attorney Chris Beres had been authorized to speak on behalf of the government. Beres was relaying the government's position in his capacity as Hun Manet's lawyer, but not as a representative or spokesman of the government. The Post apologises for any confusion caused.
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