The Court of Appeal on Thursday heard the case of the “Adhoc 5”, five current and former staffers of the rights group who in September 2018 were found guilty of bribing a mistress of former opposition leader Kem Sokha.
Sentenced to five years, the group was released with suspended sentences but served 14 months in pre-trial detention. The charges and conviction were widely believed to be politically motivated.
Rights advisor Nay Vanda, along with Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, and Lim Mony — who still work as senior officials at Adhoc — were present at court. Ny Chakrya, who is now deputy secretary-general of the National Election Committee, was absent due to his work for the NEC.
At court Thursday, Sam Sokong, Chakrya’s defense lawyer, asked the judges to delay the trial due noting that the two key witnesses who had first accused the five never testified at the lower court and had not been summoned to appear at the Appeals Court. The accusers were Khom Chandaraty, the alleged mistress, and former Adhoc lawyer Try Chhuon.
“Their absence [means we] will not find justice, and this trial will not be changed in that case because they are important witnesses,” he said. Chief judge Sin Visal rejected the request to postpone the trial.
The five Adhoc officials were arrested in May 2016 by the Anti-Corruption Unit over allegations they had bribed Chandaraty to lie about an alleged affair she was having with former opposition leader Kem Sokha.
Chandaraty, a salon worker, had sought the Adhoc’s help with defamatory comments and accusations that she was facing. After Adhoc provided her with $204 to cover food and transportation costs to attend questioning by judicial officers, the ACU claimed the funds amounted to bribery. Her testimony was used to bring procurement of prostitution charges against Sokha.
The Adhoc 5 were granted bail under court supervision in June 2017, after serving more than a year in pre-trial detention.
During the three hours of hearings on Thursday, judges questioned the defendants over the $204 they provided to Chandaraty and claims they had promised to send her abroad.
Ny Sokha, who is now president of Adhoc, told the court that unless they summoned Chandaraty — who first accused the five — there could not be a fair trial.
“I am very regretful that the court has refused to summon witnesses to testify during the hearing,” he said.
“We want them to answer during the trial.”
In 2016, recorded phone calls were leaked on social media purporting to be between Sokha and Chandaraty. Initially Chandaraty, also known as Srey Mom, denied that it was her on the calls but she changed her testimony after being summoned for questioning and said she was Sokha’s mistress — an allegation Sokha denied.
Subsequently, she lodged a lawsuit demanding Sokha pay her $300,000 for breaking a promise to buy her a house and give her money.
Separately, Sokha is now proceeding in a slow-moving hearing on treason charges dating back to 2017. He is charged with conspiring with a foreign power for allegedly working with the U.S to attempt a so-called color revolution to overthrow the government.
Nget Sarath, prosecutor at the Court of Appeal, requested judges to remand the Adhoc 5 to prison, noting they have no evidence that contradicts the lower court’s decision.
“I ask judges to consider more punishment by changing the suspended sentences to be in jail,” he said.
Lor Chunthy, defense lawyer for four of the defendants, urged the court to annul the lower court verdict because there is no inculpatory evidence and no witness to any bribe.
“Who did they bribe? Because Khom Chandaraty has no status as a witness,” he said, adding that Chandaraty came to the Adhoc office seeking help as a victim.
The only time Chandaraty made the claim against Adhoc in questioning, said Chunthy, came when she herself was being accused as part of a defamation lawsuit filed against her by social media celebrity Thy Sovantha.
“My clients did not commit bribery and the judge should deny the lower court’s verdict and acquit them,” he said.
Sin Visal, president judge, said that the verdict would be announced on May 23.