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Party leaders ‘sue Sonando’

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Beehive president Mam Sonando (centre) leaves court in Phnom Penh in 2013. The party leader has had a lawsuit filed against him by party officials for alleged embezzlement. Sreng Meng Srun

Party leaders ‘sue Sonando’

The cracks in Mam Sonando’s recently revived Beehive Social Democratic Party are widening, with a lawsuit against the party president, alleging he embezzled funds, slated to be filed at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court today on behalf of the party’s own leadership.

An advanced copy of the suit obtained yesterday and dated October 20, calls for the dissolution of the Beehive Party, an investigation for the alleged embezzlement and a court warrant to suspend all party activities.

Sonando, who is also a prominent radio station director and government critic, is being sued by party vice president Dr Heang Rithy, general secretary Nhem Bunthan, deputy general secretary Heang Kimsroeun and party deputy treasurer Ou Chan Phalla.

Since the party was founded in June, the document claims Sonando never fully reported party expenses or donations in accordance with the law and internal party rules. The allegations further accuse Sonando of obtaining funds without going through the party’s accounting system, violating a 1997 political party finance law.

Plaintiff Heang Rithy in an interview yesterday accused Sonando of not reporting generous donations from supporters and called into question Sonando’s democratic ideals.

“Before I worked with him, I thought that Mr Mam Sonando was a real patriot and democrat. But in fact, he is a corrupt person; he is a fake democrat, [with] no morals, no justice, no mercy and authoritarian use of power,” Rithy said.

“He has kept [the] party’s generous funds for his own uses,” he continued, calling into question Sonando’s personal integrity.

The lawsuit does not specify the amount of money allegedly embezzled because Sonando never reported money fundraised overseas, according to Rithy.

Sonando denied all allegations and threatened to sue Rithy if the suit damaged his reputation.

“Mr Heang Rithy is not a doctor of law, but [of] creativity and developed nerve. He has nerve,” he said.

Sonando said he plans to hold a party congress to restructure and strengthen the Beehive Party in the near future, adding: “I am pleased and honoured to work for my country.”

According to legal analyst Sok Sam Oeun, the courts do have the power to dissolve a party but only in extreme circumstances, such as evidence of terrorist activity. Embezzlement, Sam Oeun said, is not enough.

What’s more, even if the allegations against Sonando are proven to be true, “the activity of one person isn’t enough to freeze a political party”, he said.

Neither the Phnom Penh Municipal Court president nor its spokesman could be reached for comment yesterday.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALESSANDRO MARAZZI SASSOON

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