Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - CPP spokesman and former Kem Sokha colleague questioned

CPP spokesman and former Kem Sokha colleague questioned

CPP spokesman Chhim Phal Virun speaks to reporters today after being questioned by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in relation to former opposition leader Kem Sokha's "treason" case. Pha Lina
CPP spokesman Chhim Phal Virun speaks to reporters today after being questioned by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in relation to former opposition leader Kem Sokha's "treason" case. Pha Lina

CPP spokesman and former Kem Sokha colleague questioned

Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Chhim Phal Virun was questioned Tuesday morning as a witness in the “treason” charges brought against former opposition leader Kem Sokha, his former colleague at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR).

Sokha has been held in a Tbong Khmum prison since his midnight arrest in September on widely decried charges of “treason”. The arrest followed the reappearance of a 2013 video in which Sokha says in a speech that he received advice from the United States to plan his political career.

The CPP spokesman was the second witness to be called in for questioning, though the first, former Beehive Radio President Mam Sonando – who has been embroiled in politically tinged cases of his own – has said he will not return from overseas to honour the summons for fear of arrest.

Phal Virun was questioned for close to three hours, and declined to give details afterwards. He did, however, say that the investigating judge focused on his relationship with Sokha when the two worked at CCHR, where Phal Virun was Sokha’s deputy.

“He only asked about issues relating to the work at CCHR and the crime [of Kem Sokha],” he said.

Sokha’s opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party was forcibly dissolved by a Supreme Court decision in November for allegedly plotting a so-called “colour revolution” with the help of foreign backers. Many of the party’s former lawmakers and other officials have fled the country for fear of arrest and intimidation as Sokha awaits trial.

Phal Virun had previously sued Sokha in 2006 for alleged breach of trust and use of false documents during the latter’s tenure as president of CCHR. Phal Virun’s case rested on accusations that Sokha embezzled thousands of dollars from unspecified donors and then created false documents to rebut the allegations.

When Sokha was questioned by the court in 2010, he denied the allegations and said an investigation by the International Republican Institute found no misuse of funds.

Given their history, Meng Sopheary, who is part of Sokha’s legal team, said Phal Virun was likely to provide biased testimony to the court, as evidenced by his frequent criticism of Sokha in the media.

“Chhim Phal Virun used to have a conflict at CCHR because CCHR ran out of funds and stopped [his employment] when he was a staffer at the centre,” she said, adding that Phal Virun’s testimony would not help the court ascertain the truth behind the “treason” allegations against Sokha.

Political commentator Lao Mong Hay said another conflict of interest lay in Phal Virun’s political allegiance – his job as spokesman of the ruling CPP, whose officials filed the formal request to have the CNRP dissolved ahead of this year’s hotly anticipated national elections.

“It is up to the defence counsel to challenge that testimony or the credibility of the witness because of his sort of conflict with Kem Sokha,” he said.

Updated: 6:54am, Wednesday 7 February 2018

MOST VIEWED

  • Reuters: US Embassy fired 32 staff members for sharing pornography

    The United States Embassy in Phnom Penh has fired 32 non-diplomatic staff members who were allegedly caught exchanging pornographic images and video, including of minors, according to the news agency Reuters. Four sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the content was shared in

  • US think tank warns of China's 'ulterior motives'

    A US think tank on Tuesday warned that spreading Chinese investment in the Indo-Pacific follows a pattern of leveraging geopolitical influence at the expense of the nations receiving investment, including Cambodia. The report looks at a sample of 15 Chinese port development projects, noting that the

  • More than three tonnes of ivory reportedly bound for Cambodia seized in Mozambique

    A total of 3.5 tonnes of ivory reportedly bound for Cambodia was seized by authorities in Mozambique late last week, according to the NGO Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES' information was based on a report from the

  • Huge timber haul seized in Kratie raid, suspects sought

    Kratie provincial authorities were searching on Wednesday for the owners of hundreds of cubic metres of first-grade timber found loaded onto seven heavy trucks during a raid on a warehouse in Snuol district. After getting a tip-off, Military Police, police, Forestry Administration and court officials