Prime Minister Hun Sen thanked the French courts for proving he was “innocent” of any involvement in the helicopter crash that killed former National Police chief Hok Lundy in 2008.

According to the premier, the proof was established by the October 10 verdict rendered in a defamation case he filed against former opposition leader Sam Rainsy for accusing him of orchestrating Lundy’s death.

While addressing a university graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh on October 11, Hun Sen said the court had ruled that Rainsy’s accusations were “baseless and unwarranted” as there was no evidence to substantiate the claims.

Back in 2019, Rainsy took to social media accusing Hun Sen of orchestrating the helicopter crash, claiming that it was a “murder” rather than an accident. The accusation drew the ire of Hun Sen, who along with Lundy’s son Dy Vichea filed a defamation lawsuit with the Paris-based court in France as Rainsy lives there and holds French citizenship.

According to the verdict, Rainsy had submitted many documents which he said proved that it was a case of murder. However, the court said those documents were not clear or complete and did not meet the standard of evidence required in court. Therefore, if that was the total basis for the accusations, then they were unwarranted and defamatory.

Hun Sen said Rainsy could not provide direct evidence or any testimony through witness affidavits to prove that the helicopter crash was due to an explosion or sabotage, and there was no autopsy available to provide to the court either.

“It means that [Rainsy] just made these accusations without having any evidence to submit to court. So the court said that this had nothing to do with Hun Sen,” he said.

He noted that the court initially ruled against Rainsy on the charge of defamation but then offered him clemency on the basis that the plaintiff is the prime minister – a public figure who holds a position of power – whereas Rainsy has no real power.

According to court documents, there were three parts to the judge’s ruling: Affirming the basis of Hun Sen’s defamation complaint as the plaintiff; granting clemency to Rainsy and rejecting the demand to prosecute him while levying a fine of €1 euro in compensation and, finally, rejecting Rainsy’s counter-demand that Hun Sen pay for all of his expenses related to the proceedings such as his attorney fees.

“What did Hun Sen want from this that prompted him to trouble Rainsy at his home? Hun Sen wants innocence and nothing else. [Rainsy] claimed that they won the case somehow and I don’t know how they can possibly say this,” he said, holding up his copy of the 13-page court verdict.

The premier said he is pleased that the French court has confirmed the facts that prove his innocence.

He stressed that he would not appeal the court decision but would play along to the end if Rainsy wants to “keep trying his luck”.

For his own part, Rainsy insists that he has won the case despite the court records that plainly indicate that he was found of guilty of defamation and then granted clemency.

“[The] French court rules that Sam Rainsy wins the case against Prime Minister Hun Sen and his son-in-law,” he said in a Telegram channel run by an opposition group, in reference to Vichea.

In a Facebook post on October 10, Rainsy said he had “received good news from the French Tribunal”, before posting his lawyers’ statement on the outcome saying that the ruling vindicated his rights to free speech.

Hun Sen said the only positive result for Rainsy was that he was essentially pardoned after being found guilty.

During a hearing on September 1, Rainsy spoke at length in court for five hours describing all manner of things that were in no way related to the case in question, according to Hun Sen’s lawyers who were present in court that day.

Hun Sen’s lead attorney Ky Tech said the complaint against Rainsy was to protect the prime minister’s reputation and to seek justice.

Luc Brossollet, Hun Sen’s French attorney, said he had noticed at the September 1 hearing that Rainsy tried hard to avoid directly answering any questions posed to him there while he was under oath.

“We have noticed that Sam Rainsy could not answer questions under oath and could not explain anything in detail,” he said, adding that the former president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) could not answer the questions because he had no basis to make the accusations that he did and lying on the witness stand could put him at risk of criminal prosecution.