Prosecutors and Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) lawyers confirmed the CPP withdrew a defamation lawsuit against opposition Candlelight party’s top advisor Kong Korm on Sunday after he publicly apologized and resigned from his position.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry also withdrew its civil lawsuit against Korm according to a document submitted on February 2 by Minister of Foreign Affairs Prak Sokhonn. Korm had agreed on January 12 to hand over property on land in Phnom Penh belonging to the ministry, which claimed Korm illegally built a house there during his time as the CPP’s foreign affairs minister in the 1980s.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson An Sokhoeun and Phnom Penh municipal court spokesperson Y Rin could not be reached for comment.
The CPP had filed its complaint after Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened legal consequences against Korm for allegedly attacking the CPP and criticizing the January 7 Victory Day, a national holiday commemorating the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge regime by Vietnamese forces, eventually bringing the CPP to power.
The CPP’s lawsuit was filed on January 10 in the Tbong Khmum provincial court and contained a one page transcript of Korm’s comments during a January 7 speech at Candlelight’s provincial headquarters. The complaint alleged Korm’s comments reflected malicious intent to incite turmoil and social insecurity by implying the CPP was created to serve foreign powers.
CPP’s Tbong Khmum lawyer Lok Kimsang declined to comment.
Government lawyer Ky Tech said that while the CPP withdrew its complaint, prosecutors could still independently pursue criminal charges against Korm.
“For a criminal action [case] the jurisdiction is with the prosecutor to make a decision,” Tech said. “If the criminal action was dropped, Kong Korm would be acquitted in the defamation case filed by the Cambodian People’s Party.”
Deputy prosecutor Sou Sovichea, who said he was working on the case, confirmed the CPP issued a withdrawal of its complaint on February 4 but declined to comment on whether the court would proceed with criminal charges.
Political analyst Meas Nee said that even though the lawsuit had been withdrawn it had a far-reaching impact to silence other opposition politicians and activists for fear of legal consequences.
“As experience has shown, the ruling party has enough influence to prevent the Candlelight Party from running smoothly,” Nee said. “It has made Kong Korm silent.”
Nee noted that despite the 2017 dissolution of the Candlelight’s precursor CNRP, most supporters had not switched allegiances to the CPP, as demonstrated by the 1.6 million people who voted for opposition candidates in the 2022 commune elections.
“It is an indicator to show that the ruling party [CPP] has not gained much popularity from those who had been supporting the former Sam Rainsy Party [renamed the Candlelight party],” he said.
Korm’s Apology and Resignation
Korm wrote an apology letter to Hun Sen on January 31, expressing gratitude to the Prime Minister for allowing Korm’s son Kong Bora to maintain his position as an undersecretary of state at the Interior Ministry. The letter was published on government-aligned media outlet Fresh News.
“I confessed and apologized to Samdech [Hun Sen], leader of the Cambodian People’s Party, who considered my attitude and my recent activities to affect the honor and dignity of the leader of the Cambodian People’s Party and impact the peace of society,” an unofficial English translation of Korm’s letter read.
Korm added he would resign from his position as a Candlelight advisor.
Korm could not be reached for comment.
Candlelight spokesperson Kimsour Phirith confirmed the party had accepted Korm’s resignation and noted Korm had played an important role in supporting Candlelight’s grassroots activism.
“We respect the political rights of an individual person,” Phirith said. “We thanked him for his help with the political movement supporting the democratic process in Cambodia.”
Phirith declined to comment on whether Korm had been forced to resign as a result of political persecution and threats from the CPP.
Korm is not the only high-level Candlelight leader to face lawsuits brought by the CPP.
Last year, the ruling party and the National Election Committee sued Candlelight co-vice president Son Chhay for defamation after he claimed the electoral process was biased in favor of the CPP. Chhay was ordered by courts to pay $1 million in damages to the CPP and authorities have seized two of his properties in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh to cover the penalties in case he cannot repay.
Last month, Candlelight Party co-vice president Thach Setha was arrested and remains in pre-trial detention for alleging him issued five bad checks in 2019 and allegedly failing to show up for a 2021 court appearance. Setha has denied he intended to issue the bad checks and said he never received a court summons.
After learning that the CPP had sued him for defamation, Korm told CamboJA in mid-January that the Prime Minister was merely “reminding” him rather than issuing a threat and the matter would not escalate further.