OPPOSITION lawmaker Mu Sochua returned to Cambodia yesterday and promptly dared the government to arrest her for failing to pay a court-ordered fine levied in connection with her legal battle against Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The defiant Sam Rainsy Partly parliamentarian was greeted by roughly 100 supporters at Phnom Penh International Airport, where she told reporters she had no plans to pay any money in connection with the case.
“I have returned. If they want to arrest me today, this time is OK, surely,” she said, after acknowledging that she had failed to pay a fine of 8.5 million riels (US$2,024) that was due last Saturday.
“Today is too late for me to pay the fine to the National Treasury. If they want, they can arrest me any time. My address is already known.”
In August last year, Phnom Penh Municipal Court ordered Mu Sochua to pay 16.5 million riels (about US$3,928) – the 8.5 million-riel fine and a further 8 million riels in compensation – after convicting her of defaming Hun Sen at a press conference in April.
After the Supreme Court rejected her final appeal last month, Mu Sochua was given until Saturday to pay the fine. A deadline for the compensation payment expires on July 17.
Even as she invited officials to arrest her, Mu Sochua warned that such a move would send shockwaves through the international community.
She noted that, while in the United States, she had submitted a petition to an Obama administration official pointing to what she described as the political bias of the Kingdom’s judiciary.
“The person who took this petition is a very high-ranking woman, and I guarantee this petition has already reached [President] Obama’s hands,” she said.
“The US and other donors, their stance is to protect human rights, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, just courts, and to [fight]
On the day of Mu Sochua’s Supreme Court hearing, government officials and foreign donors met in Phnom Penh for the launch of a development forum. The following day, they announced an unprecedented $1.2 billion in aid payments for 2010 – about $250 million more than 2009.
Hang Chhaya, executive director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy, said the fact that donors pledged so much aid for this year meant that Mu Sochua’s case might not have much influence over their relationship with the government.
He added that the dispute between the politicians could probably be resolved, but that both were “hard-headed” and unlikely to back down.
Tith Sothea, a spokesman for the Press and Quick Reaction Unit at the Council of Ministers, said the government was not worried about Mu Sochua’s comments because donors had recognised the progress made in reforming the country’s judicial system.
“The individual’s vision does not represent women throughout the country. This vision cannot be exchanged with the whole interest of society,” he said.
Ker Bunleng, president of the Phnom Penh Municipal Treasury, said he wrote to Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutors yesterday to inform them that Mu Sochua had failed to pay her 8.5 million-riel fine. He said the court would take legal action to recover the fines.
Tith Sothea added that if Mu Sochua refused to pay the compensation to Hun Sen, her assets would be seized and she would face arrest.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEBASTIAN STRANGIO