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‘Manith message’ inquiry pledged

Social media celebrity Thy Sovantha attends an environmental forum hosted by Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier this year at the Peace Place in Phnom Penh.
Social media celebrity Thy Sovantha attends an environmental forum hosted by Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier this year at the Peace Place in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

‘Manith message’ inquiry pledged

Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat yesterday said authorities would investigate leaked phone messages allegedly showing the prime minister’s second son Hun Manith – head of the military’s intelligence unit – conspiring with social media star Thy Sovantha to discredit opposition leader Kem Sokha.

Socheat’s promise of a probe came as a Facebook account belonging to Sovantha posted more than 400 screenshots of messages purporting to show her corresponding with Prime Minister Hun Sen himself.

Socheat said he was not aware of the messages purporting to involve Hun Sen, but said experts from the defence and interior ministries would investigate the authenticity of leaks related to Manith, a major general who last year became head of the military’s intelligence unit.

He claimed that any findings were an “intelligence matter” and not related to politics. “We cannot conclude that it is true or not true yet … the ministries of interior and defence will investigate about this information,” Socheat said.

Contacted yesterday by Facebook, Manith, a major general, did not deny his exchanges with Sovantha, but did not address questions about their veracity.

“Maybe you can help me find out why this kind of video and topic has been spread over social media,” wrote Manith, who did not respond to later questions about Sovantha’s alleged link to his father.

Both sets of leaks were first featured on the Facebook account of Sovantha’s close friend Phe Sovannarith, a CPP activist, over the weekend.

In a sign a hacker could be involved, a user on Sovannarith’s account corresponding with the Post on Sunday claimed he was not Sovannarith but “someone else” that was “trying to expose the truth”.

The Post was yesterday unable to reach Sovannarith or Sovantha, once a prominent CNRP activist who fell out with the opposition and has since turned into a vocal critic, particularly against Sokha.

Among the first strange signs to appear amid the current saga was a post on Sovantha’s Facebook account on Sunday apologising to the CNRP deputy president.

The social media star this year waged a campaign to pressure Sokha over an alleged affair with a hairdresser, including suing the politician for $1 million for disparaging remarks he purportedly made about her in covertly recorded phone conversations, allegedly with his mistress.

The alleged correspondence between Manith and Sovantha – captured in a YouTube video that scrolls through the alleged correspondence including audio and text messages – discusses Sovantha’s plans to protest against and discredit Sokha, which Manith endorses.

In an exchange in late March, the prime minister’s son allegedly calls the protests “right and well prepared” and encourages Sovantha to “disrupt and disrupt” and “ask to get [an] answer whether it is true or not”, adding he was proud of the group.

In another message on March 27, Sovantha allegedly asks for 50 members of Manith’s youth group to join a protest at Sokha’s house.

His purported response is: “I can’t let them join because I don’t want it to be leaked. Do not hide the force, bring your youth group to use them . . . my force [will be] kept until it is necessary.”

Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan said he believed the discussions featured between the pair were real and had been accessed by someone who had bought Sovantha’s old phone.

“There is nothing to worry about because this case is their private business, there is no problem, there is no impact on other’s rights,” he said, also saying he did not know about the messages linked to Hun Sen.

Those messages, released in screenshots of chats in Line messenger, were dumped on Sovantha’s Facebook page yesterday accompanied by text reading: “I want to show the truth of the story between grandfather and granddaughter”, which is how the pair featured in the exchange refer to one another.

The messages purport to show Hun Sen offering Sovantha $1 million to fund her activities, discussing shooting guns and talking about plans to destroy the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party.

The Post, however, has not been able to establish the authenticity of the online chats, and government spokesman Phay Siphan said he was unsure of the veracity of the messages.

“If it’s true or not true, we have to wait for the owners of those pages, for Thy Sovantha to say something or the prime minister to say something, otherwise it’s a private matter. I’m not concerned that much, it could be true or could be fake,” he said.

Reached yesterday, CNRP Yim Sovann declined to comment on the case, only saying “we want politics in Cambodia to be clean for the next generation”.

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