Former deputy prime minister Lu Lay Sreng, who fled Cambodia to avoid a Phnom Penh Municipal Court ruling in a defamation case, has requested Prime Minister Hun Sen to allow him to return home after two years in self-imposed exile.
Lay Sreng posted a six-minute video clip on Facebook on Thursday saying he was missing his homeland and wished to return soon should Hun Sen show mercy.
“Pity should be shown to an old man who made minor wrongdoing and is now living abroad. This country [where he is residing] is not the same as ours."
“I miss you all and our country. I don’t know when I can return home or if I will have to leave my ashes in another country because I am now ill."
“I have said again and again that I would like to be excused by Samdech [Hun Sen]. Please forgive my small mistakes. Please allow me to return home because I served [the nation] with [the prime minister] for three mandates,” he said.
Lay Sreng said he wished to return before Khmer New Year because he missed going to Buddhist temples and hadn’t held a Ching Ming festival for his ancestors in two years.
He said he was now living in a $200-a-month rented home.
“It is unbelievable that a former deputy prime minister ends up like this, renting a home for $200. Someone asked me whether I am afraid of being arrested by Hun Sen for saying this. My God! [He] doesn’t just arrest people for [no reason]. I am not poisonous,” he said.
Lay Sreng was charged with defamation by Phnom Penh Municipal Court for claiming in a recorded phone call that Hun Sen had given $1 million to the royalist Funcinpec party to take the National Assembly seats of the former opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) after its dissolution by the Supreme Court in November 2017.
He also accused Funcinpec members of bribing the leader of the party with $20,000 each to get the seats in parliament.
Lay Sreng also faced another charge of insulting King Norodom Sihamoni.
All three charges stemmed from a private phone conversation with a former colleague that was recorded and leaked on social media.
In early 2018, Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Lay Sreng guilty of defamation and ordered him to pay Hun Sen 500 million riel (around $125,000) in compensation.
“Please Samdech [Hun Sen], who I used to work with, excuse me and allow me to return home to meet my compatriots and all brothers and sisters,” he said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said Lay Sreng had not challenged the court’s decision, and added his voice in pleading with the prime minister to exonerate the former Funcinpec representative for Kampong Speu province.
He said Lay Sreng should be allowed to pay a minimal, symbolic fine instead of the 500 million riel compensation ordered by the court.
“I can only add my own plea to his for the prime minister to show mercy to an old cabinet colleague of his who is full of intellectual integrity and who is longing to live his final days in his beloved homeland,” he said.
Ministry of Justice spokesperson Chin Malin said Lay Sreng could return any time and defend himself in court proceedings.
If the verdicts had been implemented, he added, Lay Sreng could request a pardon from the King via the prime minister.