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Union leader, Ath Thorn, (right) answers questions at a forum earlier this week in Phnom Penh
Union leader, Ath Thorn, (right) answers questions at a forum earlier this week in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

Union leader’s case dropped

Ath Thorn has at least one court-related problem he can forget, after a judge yesterday dismissed a corruption case filed against him and two other union leaders.

A Phnom Penh municipal judge dropped corruption charges against Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), along with vice president Kong Athit and secretary-general Ek Sopheakdey.

Former C.CAWDU member Um Visal lodged a complaint against them in April, saying they pocketed more than $93,000 in back wages. Visal asked the judge to temporarily place him in charge of the union until a new president was elected.

Despite the positive verdict, Thorn indicated the case will not be water under the bridge any time soon. “I think this guy . . . tried to destroy my image in public, and that is a bad [offence],” Thorn said yesterday.

Earlier this year, Visal and another official said that they were dismissed by C.CAWDU, a fact Athit says is incorrect. According to C.CAWDU, the two quit, refusing to renew their employment contract.

In any event, members symbolically “fired” the two after charges were filed.

Visal remained unrepentant yesterday, insisting that current leadership at Cambodia’s largest independent garment labour union is incompetent and must change. However, he said, the court has made its decision and he will discontinue legal action, he said.

“I will not continue to complain, I will just fulfil my role and obligations according to the court’s finding on this case,” Visal said before the verdict was read.

While several say Visal brought legal action against Ath Thorn out of jealousy – since Thorn twice beat Visal in union elections – Visal insists he brought the case to court in order to right a wrong.

In his complaint, Visal accuses Thorn, Athit and Sopheakdey of stealing $93,000 of money at E Garment factory in Kandal province after the union successfully negotiated with employers there to pay back wages to workers who were illegally fired.

But his worries are not over. Thorn is currently on bail for an incitement charge related to a C.CAWDU-led strike at SL Garment processing factory in September. A trial date has not been set.

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