THE opposition Sam Rainsy Party has apparently backed away from an earlier pledge to pay 16.5 million riels (around US$3,928) in fines and compensation on behalf of parliamentarian Mu Sochua, stating instead that she will have the final say in the matter.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court levied the fine and damages against Mu Sochua when it found her guilty of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen in August last year, a ruling that was upheld by the Appeal Court in October and the Supreme Court on June 2.
The Kampot province parliamentarian has consistently stated she would rather go to jail than pay the fees, and SRP officials previously supported her stance.
On Sunday, acting SRP spokesman Kimsour Phirith said the party decided at a meeting on Thursday that it should pay the fines in order to prevent Mu Sochua’s fight with Hun Sen from affecting the SRP’s work.
Mu Sochua noted in an email, however, that she had not authorised the payment.
On Monday, Kimsour Phirith said the party would allow her make the final decision.
“SRP is leaving the final decision to Her Excellency Mu Sochua … since she is the victim of the lawsuit. If she has decided to face jail and absolutely not pay the fine, it is her business,” he said. “[We] must respect her rights as an individual.”
He added that the SRP raised the issue of the payment last week in an attempt to promote stability and demonstrate political maturity.
The defamation case arose after Mu Sochua filed her own lawsuit against Hun Sen, claiming he defamed her during a speech in Kampot in April.
Mu Sochua said on Sunday that she would be returning to Cambodia on July 5.
On June 17, National Treasury President Ker Bunleng issued a letter ordering Mu Sochua to pay a fine of 8.5 million riels to the treasury within two weeks, or by July 1.
The treasury did not set a deadline for the 8 million riels in compensation that make up the balance of money Mu Sochua owes.
Ker Bunleng could not be reached for comment on Monday.
Sok Roeun, deputy prosecutor at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said that if Mu Sochua fails to pay the fine by the July 1 deadline, the treasury will notify the court, which will then take legal action to obtain the money after issuing a final 10-day ultimatum.
“If Mu Sochua refuses to pay, [we] will force her,” he said, and added that the lawmaker could ultimately end up in jail.
Tith Sothea, a spokesman for the Press and Quick Reaction Unit at the Council of Ministers, said Monday that the issue of whether the SRP or Mu Sochua agrees to make the payments or not is of little consequence to the government.
But he said Mu Sochua’s political life could be affected by the decision she makes.
“If Mu Sochua decides not to pay and agrees to jail, this will be her political life story,” he said, adding: “This is the SRP’s business.”