PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA - A woman who allegedly had an affair with Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha was questioned Friday by the Ministry of Interior’s anti-terrorism department.
The 25-year-old hairdresser’s name is Kum Chandaraty, but she has admitted to having set up a Facebook account with the name “Mon Srey,” which has been linked to salacious audio recordings circulated online last week.
Chandaraty was called to appear at the anti-terrorism department in a court order issued after opposition activist Thy Sovanntha filed a defamation complaint.
Try Chhoun, a lawyer for Chandaraty, told reporters that her client denied defaming Kem Sokha, the deputy president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
“The questioning this morning took more than three hours" and "touched at every issue related to the complaint," Chhoun said. "My client has denied all the allegations.”
Chhoun said her client would continue to follow the court’s orders.
Lieutenant General Y Sok Khy, director of the anti-terrorism department, confirmed to reporters that Chandaraty “did cooperate well with the authorities,” but he declined to elaborate on the details of the interview.
His said his department would also likely have questions for Kem Sokha. But that does not necessarily mean the politician will be summoned, he said.
The recordings surfaced two weeks ago on social media and are purported to contain the voices of Kem Sokha and “Mon Srey,” who were allegedly involved in an affair. It was also alleged in the recordings that Sovanntha was having an affair with Kem Sokha, which spurred the legal complaint.
The case has raised accusations of a politically motivated smear campaign. Kem Sokha, who is acting president of the CNRP, has said he will “not argue, not respond and not reply” to the recordings.
In an exclusive interview with VOA Khmer on Wednesday, Chandaraty denied the allegations and said her Facebook account under the name “Mon Srey” had been hacked a long time ago. She said the voice on the recordings was not hers.
Observers noted that it was unusual for anti-terror officials to conduct questioning in a defamation case. Ou Virak, head of local think tank Future Forum, told the VOA Khmer service that the court itself would usually conduct the questioning in such a case.
The court should also have investigated the authenticity of the audio recordings and tried to find out who may have been attempting to blackmail the opposition leader with lurid allegations, he said.
“One thing that I am so sorry about is that they should have investigated to find out who taped the audio or who exaggerated this issue,” Virak said, adding that even if the recordings were genuine, the perpetrator should be punished. If the recordings are false, then authorities should investigate that, he said.
“There is a violation of the law, so it needs to be investigated. It is not related to terrorism at all,” Virak added. “I think this issue is getting messy. It involves many things.”
Ny Sokha, head of monitoring at the local human rights group Adhoc, which is providing legal support to Chandaraty, told VOA Khmer he was monitoring what he said was the irregular way authorities were handling the case.
“This case is strange,” said Ny Sokha. “Strange, because it is just a defamation case, but the court delegated the investigation to the department of anti-terrorism, which works on significant cases. Normally, the court just investigates and questions on its own.”
By way of explanation for his department’s involvement, Sok Khy told reporters: “Number one, this is the department of anti-terrorism and anti-cross-border crime, and has a duty as judiciary police. Secondly, we are ordered by the prosecutors and we work under the police commissioner.”
He said his department would investigate all issues relevant to the case, including the audio recordings.
“Actually, the final result will be sent to the court at the end, because I am working on the orders of the court,” Sok Khy said.
It is not the first time allegations have been made about Kem Sokha having extramarital affairs. In 2013, a few months before the national elections that year, a middle-aged woman came forward claiming to have had relations with the opposition leader.
The woman and her mother filed a complaint at court over the affair, but the case disappeared after the elections, in which the CNRP made significant gains against the ruling party.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Khmer service.