ACU chief Om Yentieng yesterday threw down the gauntlet to Kem Sokha, warning the opposition leader he would commit a “real crime” if he failed to turn up to court for questioning on Wednesday, and suggested he go to see whether his parliamentary immunity was respected.
Yentieng, a close confidant of Prime Minister Hun Sen, has spearheaded a widely criticised probe into an alleged affair by Sokha, spurred by covertly recorded phone conversations – purportedly between the opposition deputy president and a mistress – that were anonymously leaked online.
So far, seven people have been charged over the scandal, while Sokha – who enjoys parliamentary immunity – has been issued a summons to appear by the Phnom Penh court to answer questions related to a defamation suit brought by a social media personality.
Sokha and two other CNRP lawmakers have also been issued summons over allegations of procuring prostitution.
With the defamation hearing set for Wednesday, the ACU chief yesterday spoke to Voice of Democracy radio to lay out his interpretation of parliamentary immunity and the consequences for Sokha if he ignores the summons, as his party says he plans to do.
“All people with immunity cannot resist the action taken by the government. For example, if the person with immunity drives and crashes with another person, the local police will invite him to clarify,” Yentieng said. “He must go to the police. But if the court charges him, it is only after his immunity is removed.”
Thus Kem Sokha “must abide by the law and see whether the court violates his immunity”, he said, adding not appearing would “create a real crime”.
“Then the court may not arrest him on prostitution [allegations], they may arrest him for the new crime,” he said.
However, Cambodian legal expert Sok Sam Oeun disputed this interpretation, pointing out that, firstly, immunity should protect lawmakers from arrest and, secondly, there is no charge for ignoring a summons.
“For the second summons, police can bring him to court, and for the third, they can arrest him, but it’s not a charge – it’s just to send to the court,” he said.
Given that two of its lawmakers are already locked up despite their parliamentary immunity, Cambodia National Rescue Party spokesman Yim Sovann repeated the party’s position.
“He will not go . . . The constitution is not respected.”
Additional reporting by Shaun Turton