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Judge, Prosecution Suggest Foreign Funding and Assistance Given to Kem Sokha’s Political Party

Cambodia's opposition leader Kem Sokha, left, talks to the media at his home before leaving for the court hearing in Phnom Penh, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020.
Cambodia's opposition leader Kem Sokha, left, talks to the media at his home before leaving for the court hearing in Phnom Penh, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020.

The prosecution and a judge in the Kem Sokha’s treason trial strongly hinted on Thursday that foreign assistance and funding was given to the opposition leader’s Human Rights Party, though providing little evidence to support the thinly-veiled suggestion.

The treason trial for Kem Sokha resumed on Thursday morning with judge Seng Leang, the prosecution and government lawyers questioning the opposition leader about the sources of funding for the Human Rights Party, assistance he received to draft its policies and a 2012 finance report for the party.

Seng Leang asked Kem Sokha on multiple occasions about the source of funding for the Human Rights Party, what were the nationalities of experts he used to draft the party’s policies, and repeatedly asked if any foreigners or U.S.-funded groups, such as IRI and NDI, were involved in providing donations to the HRP.

Seng Leang, however, did not present any evidence in court to rebut Kem Sokha’s assertion that only Cambodians, both in the country and overseas, were involved with the funding and functioning of the political party.

“There was no funding or aid,” Kem Sokha said in court, referring to IRI and NDI. “We did not take anything.”

The judge proceeded to ask questions about the HRP’s performance in the 2008 and 2012 elections, names of party members who won either a parliamentary or commune council seat.

He again asked about Daniel Baer, a former State Department official Kem Sokha met with prior to the 2012 commune election. Seng Leang asked if the Daniel Baer meeting was to get funding for his party, or if the former State Department official was providing advice on the HRP’s electoral campaign.

Seng Leang did not give any reasoning for how these questions related to the “conspiracy with foreign powers” charge leveled against Kem Sokha.

The prosecution then proceeded to ask exactly the same questions, justifying the identical line of questioning by saying they needed additional clarification.

They queried Kem Sokha about IRI and NDI funding, which the opposition leader had repeatedly denied receiving because it was illegal for political parties to get donor funding.

Again, the prosecution asked Kem Sokha about the party’s electoral performance in 2008 and 2012, even bringing up whether former CNRP members Ou Chanrith and Ou Chanrath were previously part of the HRP, though it was unclear why these questions was pertinent to the proceedings.

Government lawyer Ly Chanthola then questioned Kem Sokha about the HRP’s 2012 financial report, submitted to the government in late 2012.

He asked about the sources of funding, made the claim that the monthly expenditure was high and said he was curious as to how the party was contesting the 2012 election on such a meagre budget, around $100,000 at the time.

He pointed out that the party had not listed the amount of money it had spent on the 2012 commune election, to which Kem Sokha shot back that the lawyer should take these queries to the Ministry of Interior, where these reports were submitted.

“I don’t know why you are asking me these questions,” he said. “Do you mean the Ministry of Interior did not do its job?”

Earlier in the trial, defense lawyer Meng Sopheary used around five of six photos of Kem Sokha meeting foreign delegations or leaders to show that he had relations with countries other than the U.S.

The photos also included workshops organized by NDI and IRI with Kem Sokha asserting that these were attended by all political parties, including the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

The prosecution and government have looked to pin Kem Sokha on his relationship with the U.S. and organizations, like IRI and NDI, to suggest they aided and guided his career as a human rights advocate and politician.

“His Excellency [Kem Sokha] has clarified to the court that besides the U.S. he has relations with other countries to build good relations [for Cambodia],” Meng Sopheary said.

However, government lawyer Ly Chanthola suggested that meeting with dignitaries, including a Chinese president, Japanese prime minister and UK embassy delegation, were part of his official duties as a member of parliament and often no more than a welcome handshake.

The A4-size copies of these photos were held up in court by the lawyers and barely visible to observers in the gallery.

These short handshakes, Ly Chanthola said, were not indicative of Kem Sokha’s ability to foster foreign relations and just official functions he had to attend as a member of parliament.

Before Ly Chanthola could cross question Kem Sokha about his use of the word "change" during his political work and present additional evidence, presiding judge Kuy Sao ended the hearing and announced it will resume next Wednesday.