Days after being grilled behind closed doors by a prosecutor, opposition leader Kem Sokha’s purported mistress has turned on the advocates defending her, filing a suit against the CNRP acting president and accusing an opposition commune chief of giving her hush money, an accusation which led to the local official’s arrest yesterday.
For more than a month, Khom Chandaraty, a hairdresser also known by her nickname Srey Mom, had strenuously denied that it was her allegedly talking with Sokha in a series of covertly recorded phone conversations leaked on social media in March.
That changed last Tuesday when, under questioning, Chandaraty admitted she was Sokha’s “lover” to Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutor Sieng Sok, who publicised her about-face in the wake of the interview.
In one of two new complaints dated April 22, Chandaraty called for legal action against members of civil society, who she says told her to lie about her relationship with Sokha to officers probing a defamation suit brought by social media personality Thy Sovantha related to disparaging comments in the tapes.
Chandaraty names senior figures from rights group Adhoc, which had provided her with legal representation, including head of monitoring Ny Sokha, investigator Yi Soksan, senior observer Lem Mony and deputy head of human rights monitoring Nay Vanda as well as UN representative Seun Saly and women’s rights advocate Thida Kus.
“I sought intervention from Adhoc in order to protect and find justice for me,” Chandaraty wrote, in the four-page letter.
“Adhoc told me to write the complaint to completely deny the audio relating to the affair between me and Kem Sokha.”
In her second complaint, Chandaraty demanded Sokha pay her $300,000 for breaking promises, heard on the tapes, to buy her a house and give her money.
Yesterday, Ny Sokha vehemently denied the group had given such advice, as did Kus, executive director of women’s rights group Silaka.
Adhoc also released a 17-minute video, recorded when Chandaraty first approached the group, showing her appealing for their help and emphatically denying the accusations.
“We just provided her with human rights protection; we did not induce her to talk truthfully or dishonestly since we did not know the truth,” Sokha said.
Chandaraty, who was unreachable yesterday, also stated she was given $500 in hush money from Sokha via Seang Chet, a Sam Rainsy Party member and chief of Srok commune in Kampong Cham, who was arrested at 10:30am yesterday by the Anti-Corruption Unit, whose president, Om Yentieng, did not answer phone calls.
The CNRP quickly condemned the arrest as “illegal” and reminiscent of the Khmer Rouge era. “We ask the authorities to release him unconditionally,” they wrote.
Observers and the opposition have accused the ruling party of running a “dirty tricks” campaign, which has unfairly ensnared Chandaraty, who worked at a barber shop frequented by Sokha.
Chandaraty was named as the CNRP leader’s mistress by anti-terror police investigating Thy Sovantha’s defamation complaint. The unit then accused her of prostitution and lying to investigators.
Yesterday, political observer Ou Virak pointed out the irony of a statement by the Justice Ministry, released on Saturday, condemning civil society for the “crime” of instructing Chandaraty to lie and affecting her dignity.
“In fact, it’s the government which is responsible for bringing possible charges and brought up the issue of prostitution,” Virak said.
“This [U-turn] is part of a deal . . . if you look at the whole thing, it’s getting very dirty, the election season seems to be starting early and it seems to following the same old path.”
Yesterday, CNRP president Sam Rainsy said he believed “terrible pressure” had been applied to get Chandaraty to change her story.
“Poor girl! She is just being a pawn in the hands of the government which is showing the highest degree of cynicism in manipulating a defenseless person in order to set the stage for their Kangaroo court to prosecute Kem Sokha on spurious charges,” Rainsy said via email.
However, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan yesterday denied Chandaraty had been leaned on and used for political purposes and, according to local media, threatened to sue Virak, the political observer, for suggesting the party was involved.
“This is an act of Kem Sokha. No organisers are behind this,” Eysan said.
Speaking yesterday, legal expert Sok Sam Ouen said Chandaraty’s second claim against Sokha lacked legal grounds since – unless a written contract exists – you can’t sue over broken promises.
“It’s a complaint to complain,” he said.
Those purported gifts, however, are the subject of an ACU investigation into Sokha’s finances, launched in response to a complaint by a group of “students” who have publicly dogged the CNRP leader since the release of the tapes.
The ACU alleges that the gifts could have been bought with ill-gotten funds. But Chandaraty’s claim that she never received the gifts appears to significantly undermine such an argument. ACU representatives were unreachable yesterday.
The group of students campaigning against Sokha – who claim they are not politically aligned – yesterday handed out another round of petitions at parliament and the US Embassy.
Their self-appointed leader, Srey Chamroeun, said the National Assembly should “take action” against Sokha while the US Embassy should push him to publicly respond.
Meanwhile, Ty Sovantha yesterday announced she would seek $1 million in damages from Sokha, who was unreachable yesterday. She called on authorities to seize and sell his assets and donate the proceeds to charity.