Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Phnom Penh Court Orders Son Chhay’s Properties To Be Seized Over Ongoing Defamation Suit

A woman drives a motorcycle past the Phnom Penh home of opposition Candlelight Party vice president Son Chhay on November 28, 2022. The court has issued injunction to temporarily seize his properties. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
A woman drives a motorcycle past the Phnom Penh home of opposition Candlelight Party vice president Son Chhay on November 28, 2022. The court has issued injunction to temporarily seize his properties. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has issued a  warrant to temporarily seize two properties of Candlelight Party vice president Son Chhay, to ensure payment to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party after the party was awarded damages last month.

The Phnom Penh court on October 7 ordered Chhay to pay the CPP 3 billion riel ($750,000) after finding him guilty of defamation for saying that voting fraud occurred during the June commune elections.

While Chhay is currently appealing the court’s decision, the CPP’s lawyer, Ky Tech, asked the court to temporarily seize Chhay’s properties in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap province in order to prevent Chhay from selling or transferring the properties before the upper court’s decision. 

In his defense statement, Tech claimed that Chhay continues to contest the outcome of the case and says he will pay nothing to CPP.

“Son Chhay’s claim shows that he has no willingness to pay [compensation to the CPP] according to the court’s order,” he said. “This measure is to prevent the properties from sale or transfer. [We] are worried that we will not be able to exercise our rights or that it will be difficult to exercise rights and this decision is a temporary measure to protect the interests of the creditor.” 

According to the injunction signed by Judge Uong Vuthea and dated November 11, which appeared on social media recently, the two properties will remain confiscated while the appeal case is pending, unless Chhay deposits 3 billion riel with court.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Y Rin confirmed the injunction.  

Chhay told CamboJA that since the final decision has yet to be reached, there was no reason to freeze his assets. 

“If the result [appeal court] is not acceptable, I will continue to the supreme court,” he said. “I understand that I am not wrong and what the CPP wants is not my money, but they need honor.”

“I have nothing, I have no money to pay, I have only a house in Phnom Penh for living and if it is confiscated, I have no place to live.”

Opposition Candlelight Party vice president Son Chhay speaks to journalists after a hearing at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on October 7, 2022. CamboJA/Pring Samrang
Opposition Candlelight Party vice president Son Chhay speaks to journalists after a hearing at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on October 7, 2022. CamboJA/Pring Samrang

However, Chhay was reluctant to say that this was political pressure, saying that it is up to the public to judge. “I do not know how to rely on the court as everyone has experienced,” he said. 

In another defamation case, the Phnom Penh court also ordered Chhay to pay 9 million riel (about $2,250) in fines to the National Election Committee.

After Chhay’s comments about voting irregularities and electoral fraud, the NEC filed a lawsuit, saying he had defamed the election body, while the CPP filed its own defamation suit asking for $1 million in damages over Chhay’s claim that the NEC was biased in the ruling party’s favor. 

Political analyst Em Sovanara said that the seizure is politically oppressive and reflects a lack of judicial independence.

“The measure has been taken before the court proceedings are completed, intending to be a threat to the activities of opposition politicians,” he said. “Thus, it reflects the deteriorating political climate in Cambodia.

Sok Sam Oeun, a human rights lawyer and former executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said the measure is legal, noting that the civil code allows the court to use safeguards to prevent properties from being sold or transferred.

“I do not want to talk about politics, I just want to talk about legal procedures, but when it requires millions of dollars in compensation, it is excessive while the independence of the judiciary is still limited,” he added.

Last month, Prime Minister Hun Sen warned the opposition Candlelight Party that it would face dissolution over ties to former CNRP president Sam Rainsy, who founded the party that was later renamed Candlelight. 

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