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Labor Advocate Denies Claims of Corruption in Kem Ley’s Funeral Funds

In this Nov. 20, 2016 photo, a girl stands by a portrait of Kem Ley, a Cambodian prominent political analyst, at his grave in Ang Takok, Cambodia. Kem Ley, a poor rice farmer's son turned champion of Cambodia's have-nots, was sipping his usual iced latte in the same chair he had occupied most mornings for years when a former solider he may never have met walked into the Caltex gas station cafe. Armed with a semi-automatic Glock pistol, the assassin fired into his chest and head, execution-style. Then he walked casually away from the scene. (AP Photo/Denis Gray)

A large-scale funeral was held shortly after July last year in Phnom Penh, followed by a separate funeral in Kem Ley hometown in Takeo province.

The head of a labor rights group who helped organize the funeral for slain political commentator Kem Ley has denied claims made in a legal complaint against the event’s organizers that they embezzled funds meant for the funeral.

Moeun Tola, executive director of the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, told the Phnom Penh Municipal Court that the allegations were false and called for the case, filed by the members of the Cambodian Youth Party (CYP), to be dismissed.

He told reporters outside the court on Tuesday that the committee in charge of organizing the funeral was not in charge of the funding, noting that the allegations lodged by the CYP did not specify an amount of money allegedly stolen from the funds, into which many ordinary Cambodians donated.

“The accusation is false and I will not comment on the intentions of the plaintiff,” he said. “It is up to the people to decide.”

Ly Sophanna, a court spokesman, said in a message to reporters: “The court will proceed with the case accordingly.”

Kem Ley was shot at a gas station in Phnom Penh in July last year in what many believe was a political assassination in response to his vehement criticism of corruption and abuses of Cambodia’s political, business and military elite.

A large-scale funeral was held shortly afterward in Phnom Penh, followed by a separate funeral in his hometown in Takeo province some months later.

Pich Sros, a CYP leader, filed a lawsuit claiming corruption in the use of funds for the funeral -- which was not a state-funded event -- on September 8.

However, Bou Rachana, Ley’s widow, said the money donated for the funeral had either been spent on proceedings or not touched.

Soeung Sen Karona, a rights worker with local group Adhoc, said he suspected the lawsuit was filed so that the CYP and Sros could gain favor with the government and public notoriety.

“Generally, politicians do whatever it takes to gain his or her popularity,” he said. “However, it does not gain him any popularity but rather undermines his popularity. There will be no support, just criticism.”

Along with Tola, the lawsuit accuses Pa Nguon Teang, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media and Venerable Buth Buntenh, founder of the Independent Monks Network.