Police and court officials entered the offices of The Phnom Penh Post on Thursday morning to enforce a court judgment in an ongoing civil suit, but offered a 20-day extension after meeting with members of senior management.
On Thursday morning, about 20 officials led by Phnom Penh Deputy Prosecutor Kham Sophary entered the newsroom on Sothearos Boulevard in a bid to collect a sum of more than $260,000 that was awarded to former Post Media Company CEO Chris Dawe in an unlawful dismissal case that is still subject to appeal at the Supreme Court.
“The Post believes the case against it is without merit, as Mr Dawe has admitted in court that he committed forgery and suggested in a separate email to a staff member that he colluded with an unnamed court official,” said current Post Media CEO Marcus Holmes in a statement.
After discussions with Holmes, Post Editor-in-Chief Kay Kimsong and other senior staff, the officials gave The Post 20 days to pay, issuing a deadline of April 24.
The group inventoried assets both in the newsroom and at The Post’s printing facility on Veng Sreng Boulevard that could be seized and sold off in the event of nonpayment.
Dawe was employed in 2012 but was terminated from his position in November 2015 for “gross misconduct”, according to Holmes, after he allegedly forged the publisher’s signature on an altered version of his employment contract.
In one email submitted as evidence in court, Dawe admits to having forged what he refers to as a “so called” contract – one of the reasons for which the company fired him. He claims, however, that the contract was never put to use.
Former publisher Ross Dunkley has contended in a written letter that he had never signed that contract for Dawe.
However, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Dawe’s termination was unlawful under the Labour Law and, after more than a year of legal proceedings, ruled in Dawe’s favour on October 13, 2017.
The court ordered The Post to pay a total of $289,836 in unpaid salary, unpaid annual leave, severance, bonuses and compensation.
The Post appealed the municipal court verdict, and in mid-February this year the Appeal Court upheld Dawe’s claim, ordering the company to pay him $264,836, and ordering a “temporary implementation” of the judgment.
According to legal expert Sok Sam Oeun, a temporary implementation in a judgment, or a provisional execution of a verdict, grants authorities the power to confiscate property, for example, even if a final appeal decision has not yet been reached at the highest court.
The Post’s appeal is currently in the hands of the Supreme Court. The Post also filed a request to delay the enforcement of the court’s ruling, which was received within the last week, according to Holmes.
“The Post believes justice will only be served by continuing the legal fight against the baseless claim of wrongful termination,” Holmes said in a statement.
Dawe, reached by email late Thursday, declined to comment on the legal proceedings.
“Unfortunately I am prohibited by law from making any comments about this ongoing legal case,” he said.
The civil court case and the subsequent visit from authorities come amid a broader political and media crackdown in Cambodia, which has seen opposition politicians and journalists jailed, and independent news outlets shuttered.