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Breaking: Five years for chief tied to Sokha case

Seang Chet (centre), commune chief for the Sam Rainsy Party, is escorted out of Phnom Penh Municipal Court after being questioned in May.
Seang Chet (centre), commune chief for the Sam Rainsy Party, is escorted out of Phnom Penh Municipal Court after being questioned in May. Heng Chivoan

Breaking: Five years for chief tied to Sokha case

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court this morning sentenced Sam Rainsy Party commune chief Seang Chet to five years in prison for a plot to bribe the purported mistress of CNRP leader Kem Sokha.

Presiding judge Koa Vandy gave no details of the evidence against Chet, who was one of six people imprisoned for a supposed-scheme to buy the silence of hairdresser Khom Chandaraty, which critics have slammed as a bogus case designed to pressure the opposition party and civil society.

“The court decides to sentence Seang Chet, 45, male, Cambodia, to 5 years in prison for bribing a witness in Kampong Cham and Phnom Penh committed between March 10 and April 2016. The crime [falls under] article 548 of the criminal code,” said Vandy, whose only other statement was to list confiscated items returned to Chet, including a few phones and two cigarettes.

After the verdict, a lawyer for Chet said he hoped the verdict would allow him to lodge a request for a royal pardon, like the one handed on Friday to Sokha, who was cleared of his conviction in a related case.

As he was led from court yesterday, Chet, a commune chief for the legacy party in Kampong Cham, denounced the verdict.

“The verdict gave me five years; it is no justice at all. I did not bribe, I was just asked to bring money for others. I will talk to my lawyers,” Chet said.

The charge against Chet concerns $500 donated by opposition supporters abroad that his wife attempted to offer Chandaraty’s mother as support when the hairdresser was first embroiled in the alleged sex scandal, which emerged by way of seemingly tapped phone conversations. The origins of those recordings have never been investigated.

Chandaraty’s mother has stated that she did not take the money, while Chet’s family maintains it was a humanitarian gesture.

Four members of rights group Adhoc and election official Ny Chakrya have also been charged with attempting to bribe Chandaraty.

Sokha, meanwhile, was in September sentenced to five months in prison for refusing to appear at court and answer questions in a “prostitution” case linked to the hairdresser, which also saw another two CNRP lawmakers charged.

The pardon of Sokha last week as part of an agreement between the parties has given hope that prisoners in related cases, like Chet, will soon be released.

Hem Socheat, the defendant’s attorney, said he would request a pardon soon from the King.

“I will put in the request soon, within 10 days. The King can decide on the pardon,” Socheat said.

Sreng Khoeun, Chet’s wife, added: “I want him to be released like Kem Sokha, because it is just one case”.

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