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PM takes shots at Sokha as ACU takes up new probe

Keo Sophanary (left) and Sam Phalla talk to the media yesterday after attending a hearing at the Anti-Corruption Unit in Phnom Penh.
Keo Sophanary (left) and Sam Phalla talk to the media yesterday after attending a hearing at the Anti-Corruption Unit in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

PM takes shots at Sokha as ACU takes up new probe

Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday taunted embattled opposition lawmaker Kem Sokha, telling the CNRP acting president that if he was confident of victory in upcoming elections he should just remain holed-up in his party’s headquarters.

Although the comments yesterday appeared to mark a further softening in the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s stance on Sokha – who authorities tried to arrest two weeks ago – they came amid news of another potential legal case against the acting CNRP leader as the Anti-Corruption Unit announced yesterday that it was probing human trafficking accusations against the lawmaker.

Speaking at the inauguration of a Buddhist temple in Takeo province’s Tram Kak district, the premier, without referring to Sokha by name, at first condemned efforts to protect the Cambodia National Rescue Party leader, who sought refuge in the party’s headquarters after the attempts to arrest him and now remains surrounded by dozens of supporters.

“There is some matter which is not necessary for me to talk about but should be understood,” Hun Sen said. “A person who has done wrong has used the place of a political organisation to organise a group of people as actors, to play a role to defend [him]. Moreover, that political organisation has protected the bad man in order to challenge the law. Therefore I hope this matter is clearly considered.”

Apparently referencing a speech by Sokha on the weekend – in which he claimed the troubled political climate would not stop a CNRP election victory – the premier went on to maintain he was not troubled by the prolonged stand-off.

“Now he says that there is no problem and if the situation remains, he will win … If there’s no problem – don’t make noise, which is a shame and once again causes a political crisis…But now who is this crisis with?

“It doesn’t matter if you want to sleep in a place that’s four metres square – please sleep there. It doesn’t trouble our heads.”

The opposition leader has been provisionally charged for missing court summonses to answer questions about whether he procured a prostitute.

The accusation is among several stemming from an alleged affair by Sokha. Other opposition party figures and members of civil society have also been embroiled in related cases.

The CPP-controlled parliament last week voted to allow police to ignore Sokha’s parliamentary immunity and move ahead with his prosecution.

In recent days, however, government officials have signalled that arresting the CNRP acting president may be unwise given the CNRP has threatened mass demonstrations if he is seized.

Critics say the ruling party is manipulating the judiciary to attack opponents ahead of coming elections. Much of the investigation has been led by ACU president Om Yentieng, a former advisor to Hun Sen.

Yesterday Keo Sophanary – who, prior to the 2013 election, accused Sokha of fathering a lovechild with her – visited the ACU with her mother Sam Phalla to lodge a belated complaint.

The pair reiterated accusations that Sokha’s bodyguards attacked her and also alleged he had attempted to sell their house. She also claimed Sokha had given her son $4,000 in 2013.

In discussing the source of the $4,000, Phalla alleged Sokha made money by helping facilitate passage for Cambodians to travel to the United States by claiming they worked as his assistants.

“He used to send a person abroad for $20,000 as his ‘secretary’, and when they arrived there his relatives would pick them up – I heard he said this,” Phalla said after the questioning.

Yentieng said the claim could constitute “human trafficking”, but said Sophanary’s other complaints were a matter for the courts. He said the ACU would start an investigation and ask the US Embassy for assistance.

“We will write the embassy a letter at 2pm today to find out about every trip of Kem Sokha to the US and how many people went with him and how many returned,” Yentieng said.

An embassy spokesman said they were aware of media reports regarding the human trafficking allegations, which they took seriously, but was unable to comment further.

Responding yesterday, the CNRP’s deputy public affairs head, Kem Monovithya – who is Sokha’s daughter – dismissed the claim. “It sounds like Yentieng continues to humiliate ACU,” she said.

An earlier version of this article did not specify that the US embassy was specifically referring to human trafficking allegations levelled against Kem Sokha. The article was updated for clarity.

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