Local journalist Chhay Sophal on Wednesday launched his Khmer-language compilation of biographies of the 36 men who have served as prime minister of Cambodia since the closing years of the French protectorate.
Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday again admitted publicly to breaking the law when he helped opposition leader Kem Sokha escape arrest for an alleged sexual encounter with a 15-year-old girl.
Mr. Hun Sen first leveled the accusation against the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) acting president last week, claiming that Mr. Sokha had paid the girl $500 for sex, and that he himself broke the law by preventing his arrest for fear of being accused of interfering in Mr. Sokha’s personal affairs.
Mr. Sokha has denied the claim and his party has dismissed it as political mudslinging ahead of next month’s national election.
According to legal experts, Mr. Hun Sen’s public admission should lead to a police investigation into whether the prime minister has placed himself above the law of the land.
“Some people said I broke the law. Yes, it is true. I did say I broke the law because I stopped police from arresting you [Kem Sokha] before you had sex with her,” Mr. Hun Sen said Wednesday at a high school inauguration in Kandal province.
“Today they broadcast that I violated the law. I acknowledge that I broke the law,” the prime minister continued.
Mr. Hun Sen then defended his decision to break the law, claiming that it was the best move for all involved.
“I told them [the police] don’t do it [arrest Kem Sokha], just scare him away,” the prime minister said.
“Once he runs away, we don’t need to arrest him. This was not win-win, it’s equal-equal. The girl did not lose her virginity, we don’t need to have trouble with accusations and he wasn’t punished,” the prime minister continued.
Despite Mr. Hun Sen’s public admissions of wrongdoing, senior police and court officials declined Wednesday to say whether the prime minister’s claims would be investigated.
Kirth Chantharith, national police spokesman, said the matter was “out of my capacity.”
Mr. Chantharith also said that he could not comment because he had not heard the prime minister’s admissions, which were broadcast over national radio both last week and Wednesday.
“Let me watch the TV program first, then I can answer what is the competence of the national police. Right now, I have no idea.”
Brigadier General Kheng Tito, spokesman for the military police, said an investigation would need a court order.
“We haven’t received any official letter from the government or the courts to do anything about it,” he said.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy director Kor Vandy said he was unfamiliar with the matter and declined to comment.
Sok Sam Oeun, a lawyer who heads the Cambodian Defenders Project, a legal aid NGO, said police were required to investigate the prime minister if they believed a crime was credible.
“The law says that if police believe it is a crime, police can take action…they must. It is their duty if they believe a crime happened,” he said.
But admitting to a crime was not the same as evidence of one, Mr. Sam Oeun added, noting that police did have some discretion.
“The problem isn’t admit or not admit,” he said. “The police must [make an] investigation, if it is a real crime or not.”
There’s also the matter of the legal immunity the prime minister enjoys as an elected lawmaker.
Before being able to investigate the prime minister or even demand that he honor a court summons, Mr. Sam Oeun said, the National Assembly would have to take his parliamentary immunity away.
Mr. Sam Oeun said police could move against a lawmaker even with immunity if the alleged crime qualified as “serious or flagrant,” but he was not sure if Mr. Hun Sen’s professed wrongdoing qualified.
According to the law, people with a criminal conviction cannot run for office in Cambodia. That is exactly what has happened to CNRP president Sam Rainsy, who faces 11 years in jail on charges including defamation and damage to public property.
Yeng Virak, who heads the Community Legal Aid Center, another legal aid NGO, said the prime minister’s public admission ought to be investigated.
“It should be possible, but in reality I don’t know,” he added, noting the cautionary example of opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua.
When Ms. Sochua attempted to sue the prime minister in 2009 for defamation, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court dismissed the case claiming a lack of evidence but accepted a countersuit Mr. Hun Sen filed against her in retaliation for her having the temerity to sue him in the first place.
The National Assembly then stripped Ms. Sochua of her parliamentary immunity to allow the court to investigate, judge and convict her for defaming the prime minister.
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