The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a lower court ruling ordering opposition the court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) acting president Sam Rainsy to pay Prime Minister Hun Sen $1 million over a 2016 defamation case.
The court upheld the decisions of the Appeal Court and Phnom Penh Municipal Court requiring the France-based CNRP co-founder to pay 4 billion riel ($1 million) to Hun Sen, as well an additional 10 million riel. The verdict came following a December 5 Supreme Court hearing in which both sides were absent.
Sam Rainsy was sued by the prime minister over a claim he bribed social media celebrity Thy Sovantha with $1 million using money gained through corruption to attack the CNRP.
Thy Sovantha had used her popularity on social media to attract voters to the CNRP before joining the ruling CPP in June last year. He made the accusation while meeting supporters in France in January last year.
Sam Rainsy based his claim on conversations in November 2016 between her and Hun Sen that were allegedly leaked from Sovantha’s Facebook account.
The messages purportedly dealt with undermining the CNRP, with the prime minister calling Thy Sovantha “grandchild” and offering her $1 million. Thy Sovantha claimed her page was hacked and the messages fabricated.
Speaking on Wednesday, Hun Sen’s lawyer Ky Tech said the hearing followed full legal procedures even though the defendant and his lawyer were absent.
“The lawyer of the accused Sam Rainsy received a letter from the Supreme Court requiring him to submit an argument. But the lawyer did not do so and he did not attend the hearing."
“So the Supreme Court continued procedures as this is a misdemeanour [case],” he said, adding that not submitting an argument implied Rainsy’s lawyer had abandoned his right to defend his client.
However, Rainsy’s attorney, Sam Sokong, claimed he had submitted an argument to the Supreme Court outlining the defence case.
“I submitted an argument for this case. But I did not go to defend [Rainsy] because [my appearance in court] is not required [by law] as we had already submitted [defence] documents,” Sokong said.
“I think the Supreme Court ruling to uphold the decision of the Appeal Court is unjust and not acceptable. I will discuss with my client and we will file a complaint to request a trial in the case if we have new evidence,” he said.
Sam Rainsy told The Post on Wednesday that he stood by his claim, dismissing the decision as coming from a “kangaroo court” and saying the legal system should investigate the “leaked” conversations between Hun Sen and Sovantha.
He said he had merely reposted the conversations, just as other Facebook users had done.
“The attached photos are irrefutable evidence – ignored by Cambodia’s kangaroo court – of a special relationship between Hun Sen and Thy Sovantha two years ago."
“I have been condemned to pay $1 million to Hun Sen for allegedly defaming him by reposting on my Facebook page photos circulating on the web showing that irrefutable special relationship between Hun Sen and Thy Sovantha, which led the former to offer $1 million to the latter to encourage her to conduct activities against the CNRP in 2017.
“Instead of ignoring the evidence that has been exposed, the court should investigate the leaked conversation between Hun Sen and Thy Sovantha. There are more than 400 leaked messages between the two,” he claimed.