The reported expenses of on trial opposition leader Kem Sokha’s Human Rights Party fell below the plausible costs of the party’s activities, government lawyers claimed on Thursday, though they did not say what activities were supposedly unaccounted for.
Sokha, charged with conspiring with a foreign power, is accused of working with the U.S. to overthrow the government and faces up to 30 years in jail if found guilty.
On the sixth day of his trial at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, prosecutors asked Sokha if the U.S. donors that had backed his NGO continued to fund his return to politics. Sokha founded and led the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) from 2002 to 2007.
Sokha denied that U.S. democracy-building organizations the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and International Republican Institute (IRI), which has supported CCHR, funded his political party.
The Human Rights Party (HRP) contested the 2008 national election and 2012 commune elections before merging with the Sam Rainsy Party ahead of the 2013 national election to form the main opposition CNRP. After nearly winning the 2013 election, the CNRP was banned in 2017 two months after Sokha’s arrest.
Government lawyer Ly Chantola repeatedly questioned Sokha in court about the HRP’s expenses as reported to the Interior Ministry, claiming they were lower than the party’s “real” spending. Chantola held up a piece of paper showing the expenses filed by the HRP, but did not say what activities he thought were unreported.
The court heard that the HRP had reported expenses of about $100,000 in 2012, according to Voice of America.
Sokha said he could not remember the details of his former party’s expenses but that they had been filed legally.
“If you are not clear about the size of the expenses for party activities, how can you have competed against others?” Chantola asked.
“Maybe because of this lack of clarity, the Human Rights Party got only three seats,” Sokha replied, referring to the 2008 National Assembly election.
Outside the court, government lawyer Ky Tech said the HRP’s stated activities and reported expenses were out of line.
“The figure he reported to the Ministry of Interior and the scope of work he said does not match up with each other, even a little,” Tech said, but did not elaborate on what the scope of work was that supposedly went beyond the reported expenses.
Tech added that Sokha had repeatedly evaded questions by claiming he did not remember the facts.
Defense lawyer Pheng Heng told reporters that his client had tried to answer as many questions as possible, and that it was also his client’s right to not answer. The human brain was not like a computer that could call up any file from memory, Heng said.
As for the HRP’s expenses, the reports were filed according to the law and advice from the Interior Ministry, he said.
Sokha had asked NDI and IRI to provide programs for all parties, including the HRP, such as training and debates during election periods, but not financing, Heng said. The debates were the only time that parties without significant resources could express their opinions to a wide audience, he said.
Additional reporting by Ouch Sony
(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)