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Court seizes Chhay’s assets

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Candlelight Party vice-president Son Chhay outside of Phnom Penh Municipal Court in July after undergoing questioning. Heng Chivoan

Court seizes Chhay’s assets

Candlelight Party (CP) vice-president Son Chhay said he planned to meet his defence lawyer next week to discuss the guilty verdict delivered by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to temporarily confiscate his assets as compensation for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in relation to a defamation lawsuit.

Chhay has been sued by both the CPP and the National Election Committee (NEC) over his public remarks on alleged irregularities and vote rigging in the June 5 commune council elections. He has lost both cases.

The November 11 verdict handed out by Presiding Judge Uong Vuthea ordered the temporary seizure of Chhay’s assets in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap province.

According to the verdict, the seizure came at the request of CPP lawyers Ky Tech and Pho Sotheaphal, to ensure the payment of compensation in the case.

The CP’s No2 had ignored the October ruling and intended to flout the law by not paying more than 3 billion riel (roughly $750,000) in fine and compensation – 8 million riel to the state coffers and 3 billion riel to the CPP – the lawyers was quoted in the verdict, citing Chhay’s public remarks and interview with the media.

“I have no reason to pay any compensation. They can do what they like with me, it’s up to them,” Chhay was quoted as telling Radio Free Asia on October 30.

They said that to ensure payment of fine and compensation as ordered, the court had decided to temporarily seize two plots of land and houses.

“To [avoid] temporary confiscation, Chhay must deposit about $750,000 as a bond to the court, added the judge.

Chhay told The Post on November 28 that he had not yet received a formal letter from the court, despite one circulating on social media.

He claimed that the case was not yet over as he was still awaiting the outcome of an appeal to the Supreme Court.

“The plantiff demands action from me. I will answer their demands, but as far as I am concerned, the case is not yet completed. I think the plaintiff fears I will relocate or transfer ownership of my property,” he said.

“I do not think that would be possible, because the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction would not allow me to. For this reason, I do not know why it was necessary to issue the order of seizure,” he said.

He added that the seizures will affect the CP’s activities, just as the general elections approach.

“If the court seizes my assets, I will have no place to live. I live in my Phnom Penh house, and have one apartment in Siem Reap. I do not have enough cash assets to deposit even one per cent of what the court is demanding,” he continued.

Political analyst Kin Phea said that when a defendant has no money to pay fines or compensation, then the court may legally seize his or her assets.

He believed the case would be simpler if this was a straightforward criminal charge.

“According to the viewpoints of some members of the public, this case was not clear cut. They think it may have been politically motivated. If this is the case, then they believe it should have been resolved politically, and that as a politician, Chhay was merely expressing his opinions about the commune council elections,” he added.

He continued that the case was not a question of protecting the public, but was between Chhay, the CPP and NEC.

“Rightly or wrongly, it could deter some people from speaking their minds. The other side of the coin is that may force politicians to bear more responsibility and be more cautious before making allegations,” he said.

The municipal court has ruled in favour of both the CPP and NEC, ordering Chhay to compensate the CPP 3 billion riel and pay a fine of $8 million riel to the state coffers. In the NEC lawsuit, it ordered him to pay 9 million riel to the state.

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