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SRP lawman stands by allegations of corruption

SRP lawman stands by allegations of corruption

Opposition MP Chea Poch is standing by claims that Funcinpec President Prince Norodom

Ranariddh accepted a $30 million bribe, despite the jailing of his colleague Cheam

Channy last month.

Poch appeared at the Phnom Penh municipal court on August 31 to answer a summons

from investigation judge, Soa Meach.

The Sam Rainsy Party member answered questions about the defamation charges lodged

against him by Prince Ranariddh September last year.

"I went to the court and confirmed with the investigating judge that I still

maintain my speech about the allegation the government was involved in corruption

when forming the coalition government after the national elections in 2003,"

Poch said.

"The investigating judge told me that he will continue to investigate my case,"

he said.

"I am not worried about the court case against me, but I am worried about the

living conditions of villagers who face difficulties due to the high cost of electricity

and gasoline, and lack of food because of flood and drought," Poch said.

The summons was served just days after Poch's August 15 return from self-imposed

exile, which was sparked by the National Assembly's decision in February to strip

him of parliamentary immunity.

Initial concerns that Poch may have been arrested when he went to court proved unfounded.

"We haven't issued an arrest warrant against Chea Poch because it is a minor

crime," said Ngeth Sareth, Phnom Penh municipal court's prosecutor.

Sareth said the investigating judge has finished looking into the case and is waiting

for the president of the court to set a date for the hearing.

Chea Chanboribo, Funcinpec's spokesman, said that he was busy with meetings and could

not comment.

The defamation charges stem from comments made during a public meeting in Prey Veng

on August 4 last year.

"The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) organized a public forum and the

participants asked me questions about corruption in the government," Poch said.

He told those at the forum that Ranariddh took $30 million and an airplane from Prime

Minister Hun Sen in exchange for agreeing to break the year-long political deadlock

and form a coalition government with the Cambodian People's Party.

On September 2, 2004, Prince Norodom Sirivudh, secretary general of Funcinpec, filed

a complaint with the municipal court on behalf of Ranariddh accusing Poch of defamation

under Article 63 of the 1992 UNTAC criminal procedure.

A more detailed version of the bribery allegations emerged this year in an article

by historian Steve Heder in the Singapore-based Southeast Asian Affairs 2005.

"Another crucial juncture [in breaking the 2003-4 political deadlock] was a

secret meeting in early March [2004] in Bangkok between Ranariddh and Thai defense

minister Chaovalit Yongjaiyut, with the latter and the tycoon Ly Yong Phat acting

as mediators for Hun Sen," Heder wrote.

"Hun Sen and Ranariddh agreed by telephone that CPP and Funcinpec would split

'commissions' on government business deals 60-40," he said, citing Funcinpec

and diplomatic sources.

The article did not explain what kind of business deals or commissions were included

in the alleged power-sharing agreement.