Embattled Radio Free Asia journalist Chun Chanboth has confirmed the authenticity of a leaked conversation with General Mao Sophan while contesting the skewed interpretation of the recordings by government mouthpiece Fresh News and Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Since early March, short clips of Chanboth’s 2017 meeting with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces general have been trickling out on Fresh News in an attempt, Chanboth believes, to paint him as a Cambodian government spy.
While Chanboth on Saturday confirmed the authenticity of the leaks, released as of Sunday in five short clips, he said that they had been spliced in sections.
Speaking to The Post in Australia, Chanboth said he had met with Sophan during a March 2017 trip and was aware the conversation was being recorded on four devices. He added that Fresh News’ contention that Chanboth was worried he would be killed by the US Central Intelligence Agency was untrue.
“The conversation goes like this – Mao Sophan told me that the Prime Minister [Hun Sen] was very concerned about my safety and they begged me to get the bodyguard arranged by the premier and Mao Sophan,” he said, adding he rejected the offer.
According to Chanboth, Sophan was a journalistic source and had in the past provided him with information, including transcripts of leaked audio recordings involving opposition politicians.
“Anything . . . that he would send to Prime Minister Hun Sen, he would send to me immediately. So he is a very very good source, an inside source actually,” he said.
Another Fresh News leak suggested that Chanboth was anti-opposition because he and Kem Ley believed former opposition leader Sam Rainsy would be more dictatorial in power than Hun Sen.
Chanboth said this came up in the conversation only because Sophan had accused RFA of not being independent. In response, he pointed to past broadcasts in which guests, in this case Ley, had criticised the opposition.
During his visit to Cambodia in 2017, Chanboth was accused of trying to sneak into Prey Sar prison and fled the country ahead of an arrest warrant.
Since then, he has been targeted in what appears to be a coordinated smear campaign against him. On top of the video clips, Fresh News also leaked a screenshot on March 18 of a WhatsApp conversation between Chanboth and Hun Manet, Hun Sen’s eldest son, alleging the former wanted to meet the premier on the sidelines of an Asean meeting last month.
“In fact it was Hun Manet who asked me to see his dad,” he said. “It was just a source trying to get [Manet’s] father for the interview. [He is] nothing else than a source.”
General Mao Sophan and Ratha Visal, a disgruntled ex-RFA staffer who has pushed pro-government media’s version of events, could not be reached on Sunday.