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