Former deputy prime minister Lu Lay Sreng on Sunday landed in Cambodia and announced his retirement from politics, less than a week after Prime Minister Hun Sen assured him of a safe return and exemption from court cases for defamation and insulting King Norodom Sihamoni.
Also a former senior official of the embattled Funcinpec party, Lay Sreng was charged with defamation by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for claiming in a recorded phone call that the prime minister had given $1 million to the royalist party to take the National Assembly seats of the former opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party following its dissolution by the Supreme Court in November 2017.
He also accused Funcinpec members of bribing the party’s leader with $20,000 each to get the National Assembly seats. Lay Sreng faced another charge of insulting King Sihamoni.
The 77-year-old, who fled Cambodia in October 2017 to avoid the legal woes, called the King a “castrated chicken” during the phone call for staying silent on the country’s tense political situations.
The conversation was leaked online by the anonymous pro-government social media personality “Seiha”, who was behind numerous other high-profile leaks widely viewed as damaging to ruling party rivals.
Despite defamation being for public speech, and the fact that his remarks were private and surreptitiously recorded, Lay Sreng was found guilty of defamation and ordered to pay Hun Sen 500 million riel (around $125,000) in compensation.
Lay Sreng pleaded for Hun Sen’s clemency late last month, after which the prime minister told the minister of justice to review the case and find a way to annul the compensation by requesting a pardon from the King.
Upon his return at Phnom Penh International Airport, an elated Lay Sreng told The Post he would retire from politics and establish a centre to care for the elderly in the Phnom Srang Mountain area in Kampong Speu province’s Kong Pisei district.
“Nothing is more delighting than living in one’s homeland. I will set up and fund a centre to care for the elderly in the Phnom Srang area in order to reduce the government’s difficulties,” he said.