Former Deputy Prime Minister and ex-Funcinpec official Lu Lay Sreng left the country for Thailand yesterday morning, the day after the royalist party and Prime Minister Hun Sen vowed to file lawsuits against him for disparaging the King and accusing the government of bribing Funcinpec.
A senior official at Phnom Penh International Airport, who asked to remain anonymous, confirmed that he saw Lay Sreng leaving the country.
The official speculated that the reason for the departure – at just after 6am – may have been for medical reasons, though the timing raises questions. He added that Lay Sreng was not on a no-fly list.
The former deputy prime minister found himself in hot water after a private telephone conversation with former party official Ky Lum Ang was leaked by the anonymous anti-opposition Facebook user “Seiha”.
In the recording, he calls King Norodom Sihamoni a “castrated chicken” and Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh an “idiot prince”. Lay Sreng also accused Funcinpec of taking $1 million from Hun Sen in exchange for the party agreeing to take the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s National Assembly seats if the main opposition party is dissolved.
Hun Sen and Funcinpec immediately announced plans to sue Lay Sreng, who is also the former minister of rural development, despite the fact that the law clearly states defamation only applies to comments made in public.
Representatives of Funcinpec and of the premier said the lawsuits would go forward as planned.
“[The lawsuit] will keep going. We won’t back down. That’s his private matter, we don’t forbid him [from leaving],” said Nheb Bun Chin, spokesman for Funcinpec.
Bun Chin and Ky Tech, Hun Sen’s lawyer, both said they plan to file the respective complaints today.
Lay Sreng is one of many political figures to flee the country in recent months, including a slew of CNRP officials. CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua also absconded after being warned of her imminent arrest by a senior government official.
Analyst Lao Mong Hay said yesterday that critics and opposition figures feel they have no recourse for justice in Cambodia.
“This has been well known all along,” he said, pointing to a 2014 quote in which the former UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights said the courts are “a tool of the executive”.
“The level of tolerance [of criticism] seems to be lower and lower,” he said.
Additional reporting by Andrew Nachemson