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Mu Sochua pay deal queried

Mu Sochua pay deal queried

A SENIOR lawmaker says it may be impossible for the National Assembly to dock pay from opposition Parliamentarian Mu Sochua, a move that has been suggested as a possible way around her refusal to pay court-ordered compensation to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Cheam Yeap, a parliamentarian with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said yesterday that the National Assembly cannot abide by any court request to seize Mu Sochua’s salary if she does not consent to it.

“Mrs Mu Sochua has confirmed again and again that she will not pay. She agrees to go to jail,” said Cheam Yeap, who is also chief of the National Assembly’s Finance and Banking Commission. “In this situation, if we cut her salary without her agreement, it is impossible.”

Mu Sochua was facing arrest over her refusal to pay 16.5 million riels (US$3,895) in court fines and compensation levied against her after she was convicted last year of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen. But in a letter dated Thursday – the court’s original deadline for Mu Sochua to pay her fine – Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Chea Sok Heang instructed prosecutor Sok Roeun to enforce the law by asking the National Assembly to seize Mu Sochua’s salary to cover the 8 million riels ($1,888) ordered as compensation for Hun Sen. The order came after a lawyer
representing Hun Sen asked the court to demand that her salary be docked, the letter said.

In a separate letter addressed to Mu Sochua, dated Friday, Sok Roeun said the court had postponed its plans to have the lawmaker “detained by force”, and that the premier’s compensation for “mental damage” must be paid first.

“Therefore, [we] decided to temporarily postpone detainment by force, allowing the court to enforce by demanding mental damage compensation first,” Sok Roeun said in the letter.

Cheam Yeap said the National Assembly had yet to receive an official request from the court.

But he suggested Mu Sochua could sue the National Assembly if her salary were cut against her will.

Yesterday, Mu Sochua said she would refuse any attempt by the court to seize a portion of her salary.

“If my salary is taken without my agreement, it is a violation of my rights,” she said. “I do not agree to have my salary cut.”

Municipal Court officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Meanwhile, a senior United States diplomat appeared to wade into the dispute, urging Cambodian authorities to respect “freedom of expression”.

“It’s very important to weigh carefully issues like defamation suits, because oftentimes the kind of criticisms and debate that go on is best conducted in the political arena rather than through the judicial system,” US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns said at a press conference.

‘Returning the soul’
The diplomat was in Cambodia for a brief visit this weekend that included the repatriation of artefacts that had been smuggled out of the country.

“Returning these items is like returning the soul of Khmer ancestors to their bodies after dozens of years of separation and so, reviving the bodies,” said Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Him Chhem.

The seven pieces had been seized by US customs officials in two operations, including one that involved a suspect selling artefacts on the auction website Ebay.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA

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