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Tola questioned over Kem Ley funeral funds

Labour rights activist Moeun Tola speaks to the press yesterday outside the Phnom Penh court.
Labour rights activist Moeun Tola speaks to the press yesterday outside the Phnom Penh court. Heng Chivoan

Tola questioned over Kem Ley funeral funds

Labour rights advocate Moeun Tola was questioned at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday in relation to accusations that he misappropriated funds meant for slain analyst Kem Ley’s funeral.

Independent media advocate Pa Nguon Teang, who was also summonsed, did not attend.

Tola, Nguon Teang and activist monk But Buntenh – all of whom have been vocal critics of the government in the past – were first sued in September by Cambodian Youth Party President Pich Sros. Sros has since also filed a complaint to dissolve the opposition CNRP, prompting suspicions that he is working with the ruling party, a charge he has denied.

“I told the court that the committee for the funeral was not involved with the money. It was the family who controlled and managed the funds,” Tola said to reporters outside of court.

In an interview later, Tola said he was questioned for two and a half hours, but did not know whether he would be charged.

“It’s really hard to predict, but I am confident in my own facts . . . I did not commit any wrongs,” he said. “I don’t want to say whether the case is politically motivated. I think the public would have that feeling,” he added.

Soeung Senkaruna, a spokesman with the rights group Adhoc, said he was also suspicious. “This is the strangest complaint I have ever seen. We wonder why” it was filed, he said.

Meanwhile, Sam Chamroeun, a lawyer representing Nguon Teang, said his client was still abroad and he submitted a delay request. Buntenh, who is currently in the United States, skipped his first scheduled questioning without requesting a delay, and had not requested a delay for a scheduled appearance today.

Sros said yesterday that, ultimately, “the law will convince them” to attend questioning. He also dismissed Tola’s explanations, saying he would wait for the “real answer”. “If I trusted their answers, I would not go to the law,” he explained.

“I know they are related to the money,” Sros added, claiming that he received information from Ley’s younger brother.

Ley’s brother, Kem Rithisith, could not be reached yesterday, but has previously said it was Sros’s “right” to file a lawsuit.

However, Ley’s sister-in-law, Bou Lita, sided with Tola yesterday, saying Ley’s wife and sister had handled the funds for the beloved analyst’s public funeral ceremonies.

“They had pity on [Ley], that’s why they became [funeral] committee members. The relatives did not file a complaint, why would he?” Lita asked, referring to Sros.

“The money for the funeral was not managed by the committee, but by [Ley’s] wife and sister.”

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