No Plans to Probe Claims That PM Promised Cash to Sovantha

The government said on Wednesday that it had no plans to look into online allegations that Prime Minister Hun Sen promised $1 million to support the activities of Thy Sovantha, a social media celebrity who rose to fame as an opposition supporter before taking a hard turn last year.

Ms. Sovantha has been at the fore of a campaign to attack acting CNRP President Kem Sokha over a series of recordings leaked online in March that allegedly exposed his extramarital relations with a 25-year-old manicurist.

Thy Sovantha speaks at a news conference in May during which she announced a campaign demanding that deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha step down. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Thy Sovantha speaks at a news conference in May during which she announced a campaign demanding that deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha step down. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

A group of screenshots posted to Ms. Sovantha’s Facebook page on Tuesday and later removed— but not before being circulated elsewhere online—shows a conversation on the Line smartphone app between users who affectionately call each other “grandpa” and “grandchild.”

Though references to events and individuals close to the prime minister—his Cabinet chief Ho Sothy is mentioned by name— led Facebook users to allege that the messages were between Mr. Hun Sen and Ms. Sovantha, government officials said on Wednesday that they had no interest in finding out if there was any truth to the claims.

The government has been highly sensitive to seemingly unsubstantiated claims made on Facebook, including claims that Mr. Hun Sen’s son Hun Manet was actually the son of a Vietnamese communist official, and another saying that the prime minister was dead, which led to a woman’s arrest.

Om Yentieng, chairman of the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), said his officials were not responsible for investigating the allegations.

“Our job is not investigation, so ask to people who are used to investigating,” he said, dismissing a reporter when asked which agency should be contacted. “I don’t want to teach a crocodile how to swim.”

It was a remarkably different response to one from the same government official insisting that it was his mandate to aggressively pursue Mr. Sokha over promises he allegedly made to purchase gifts for mistresses. Mr. Yentieng called press conferences to update reporters as the probe was ongoing, even deploying audio experts in an attempt to verify that it was Mr. Sokha in the recordings.

The conversation posted to Ms. Sovantha’s Facebook page included much grander promises than those of trips abroad and apartments allegedly made by Mr. Sokha.

“In the past, I wanted to break apart Sam Rainsy from Kem Sokha in 2018, but I see grandpa has deposed Kem Sokha. I see many more chances to break the two of them apart,” says a message allegedly from Ms. Sovantha.

“Now there are many chances,” the reply reads. “Grandchild can push this work before the deadline. This is the reason I want grandchild to take this money to keep in your hands.”

“Grandpa sent a telegram to uncle Ho Sothy to have him give grandchild $600,000 more,” it continues, an apparent reference to Mr. Hun Sen’s Cabinet chief. “Total $400,000+$600,000=$1,000,000+you.”

Neither Ms. Sovantha nor Mr. Sothy could be reached to provide comment.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the messages were not a matter of public concern.

“It’s their business,” he said. “For the time being, I have no idea if it is true or not true. I am satisfied that it is a private matter.”

“The thing is only popping up on Facebook,” he added.

Facebook is also where the recordings of Mr. Sokha showed up, also anonymously and with no proof that the man in the recordings was actually the deputy opposition leader. And yet an investigation was launched involving the ACU, anti-terrorism police and the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

The Defense Ministry, meanwhile, has decided that a video anonymously posted to YouTube and allegedly showing a conversation between Ms. Sovantha and Mr. Hun Sen’s middle son, Hun Manith, director of the military’s intelligence unit, is worth investigating.

The 20-minute video, which scrolls through a Facebook conversation, appears to show Mr. Manith and Ms. Sovantha discussing plans to protest against Mr. Sokha.

Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat said an investigation was in order, given Major General Manith’s senior position, and even admitted that the leak appeared “neglectful,” but said he was not concerned that the prime minister’s son might accidentally leak state secrets as well.

“It was a personal conversation, but he is our leadership on intelligence, and we trust him with national issues that cannot be leaked,” General Socheat said.

“It was also neglectful, although the conversion did not leak any secret national issues,” he said. “There are many big countries in the world [that] have been hacked, so it’s hard to control hacking.”

(Additional reporting by Janelle Retka)

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