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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Tentative ruling by US judge deals blow to Hun Manet case

Process server Paul Hayes (papers in hand) pictured attempting to serve Hun Manet with a summons outside La Lune restaurant in Long Beach, California, last year. Photo supplied
Process server Paul Hayes (papers in hand) pictured attempting to serve Hun Manet with a summons outside La Lune restaurant in Long Beach, California, last year. Photo supplied

Tentative ruling by US judge deals blow to Hun Manet case

The US judge handling a jailed opposition member’s “false imprisonment” case against Hun Manet this week issued tentative rulings indicating he would dismiss the suit against the premier’s eldest son.

At a hearing on February 6 at the US District Court Central District of California, judge George Wu reasoned that lawyers for Cambodia National Rescue Party official Meach Sovannara had failed to establish that Lieutenant General Manet was subject to the jurisdiction of the court, according to a record of the session uploaded online.

Wu also indicated that the plaintiff had not provided sufficient evidence to prove the scion was effectively served by process server Paul Hayes, who claimed he was assaulted by Manet’s bodyguards as he attempted to serve the 39-year-old outside La Lune restaurant in Long Beach, California, on April 9. The tentative rulings, however, are not final. The judge set March 30 to hear further evidence from the parties.

The case, lodged on April 8 by Sovannara’s US-based wife, claims the opposition official’s 20-year prison sentence for “insurrection”, a charge related to his participation in a 2014 anti-government protest in Phnom Penh that turned violent, amounted to “torture” under international terrorism law.

While also naming the government as a defendant, it argues Manet’s senior military positions, including head of the Defence Ministry’s anti-terrorism unit, make him liable for Sovannara’s treatment and the impact on his family.

Manet’s lawyers have disputed their client was served correctly or was subject to the court’s jurisdiction. Further, in a declaration to the court, Manet stated he did not travel with bodyguards or a security detail, testifying that a man shown in a photo appearing to grab Hayes did not work for him.

Wu said no evidence submitted, including photos and video footage, had suggested Manet was aware Hayes was delivering legal papers or that he had prior knowledge of a potential case and had ordered agents to prevent service from happening, as argued by the plaintiffs.

“It is entirely unclear from the images who pushed Hayes, nor is it clear where Manet (or his bodyguard/agents) was located at that point in time,” wrote Wu. “Moreover, as Defendants point out, Hayes’ own declaration and deposition testimony indicate that he never communicated his intent to serve court documents to Manet or his agents.

“Hayes’ Declaration states that he only called out ‘General Manet, General Manet,’ before he was pushed by someone in the crowd.”

Wu also deemed “insufficient” the plaintiffs’ submission that Manet met the criteria for “general jurisdiction” on account of his time studying in the US, the fact his in-laws live in Long Beach, California, or his periodic visits to the country.

In his declaration, Manet had testified that his in-laws did not live in the US and stated he had no business interests or property in the country, noting his only significant asset during his days at West Point military academy was a 1994 Honda Accord.

“However, I currently have no ownership interest in that car,” he stated.

Reached yesterday, Cambodia-based lawyer for Manet Christopher Beres, of Sciaroni and Associates, noted the court was yet to make a final determination.

He added, however, that “according to the Court record of the February 6 hearing, the plaintiff failed to provide the Court with any evidence to support his story of a bodyguard attack”.

US-based lawyer Morton Sklar, who is acting on behalf of Sovannara’s family, said the judge had granted an evidentiary hearing to allow a revision of their arguments on jurisdiction.

“[The judge] indicated that if we could identify the attackers and show that they were connected to Hun Manet he would reconsider his tentative ruling,” Sklar said, via email.

Sklar and his legal team have also filed a motion to add CNRP lawmaker Nhay Chamroeun as a party to the case against Manet, on account of his assault last year by soldiers from the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit, of which Manet is a deputy commander.

In his remarks, Wu said that motion, and questions about whether the government would remain listed as a defendant in the case, would be addressed on March 30.

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