PHNOM Penh Municipal Court has summoned Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Chea Poch to appear in court this month in connection with a criminal defamation complaint filed against him more than six years ago, despite his constitutional immunity from prosecution.
In a summons issued September 2, court deputy prosecutor Ek Chheng Huot ordered Chea Poch, 30, to appear in court on September 29 to answer to the charge.
The case dates back to August 2004, when former royalist heavyweight Prince Norodom Ranariddh sued Chea Poch and SRP president Sam Rainsy for allegedly stating that he had accepted bribes in exchange for agreeing to form a coalition government with the Cambodian People’s Party.
In February 2005, the National Assembly suspended both lawmakers’ parliamentary immunity, forcing them to flee the country, before a political settlement in 2006 paved the way for their return.
When contacted yesterday, Chea Poch expressed confusion about why the case was being reopened.
“This issue took place in 2004 and 2005, but in 2006 a political compromise ended this story. The assembly has restored my immunity, and the assembly has also acquitted me,” he said.
In accordance with the Cambodian Constitution, parliamentarians cannot be prosecuted unless the National Assembly passes a two-thirds vote to suspend their immunity.
Chea Poch said no prosecution could move ahead until the assembly took this step.
“It is out of step with procedure because I have my immunity, so until the court requests to lift my immunity, I can’t appear for trial,” he said. “I don’t understand.”
He said he had not decided whether to appear in court, and that he intended to talk with his lawyer.
A week after issuing the summons to Chea Poch, the court also summoned Sam Rainsy, who is living in self-imposed exile overseas, in relation to a two-year-old defamation lawsuit brought by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.
Chea Poch’s lawyer Moa Sophearith said yesterday that he would request that the court quash the charge, since the plaintiff had withdrawn his complaint, and that the long delay had invalidated the case.
Ek Chheng Huot said the September 29 trial date would be pushed back, but did not give a reason for the postponement, saying that the court was awaiting talks with Chea Poch’s lawyer. He said, however, that Chea Poch’s case would be heard and brought to a close.
Liv Sovanna, a lawyer for Prince Ranariddh, could not be reached yesterday.