Yang Heng, a Prasac branch manager in Svay Rieng, came to his old friend Ly Sida pleading for help. His branch had granted a loan of tens of thousands of dollars to a couple who were unable to repay, and now he stood to lose his job if the money could not be recovered.
Over several years, the friend, Sida, a construction worker, paid installments to cover for the couple — $42,000 in all. Once the couple’s loan was repaid, they were supposed to borrow again from Prasac to repay Sida.
But that didn’t happen, and Sida posted videos criticizing the branch manager and Prasac, saying the microfinance bank had cheated him.
Prasac then sued Sida for defamation.
The case was heard at the Supreme Court on Monday, after the Phnom Penh Municipal Court first absolved Sida, then the Appeal Court found him guilty of defamation.
According to defense lawyer Choung Choungy, Heng had begged Sida for help, and Sida paid $42,000 from 2014 to 2018. But Heng had then broken his promise to repay Sida.
Therefore, Choungy argued, what Sida posted was not defamation, but the truth.
Prasac’s lawyer Heng Sambath, however, said Sida had spoken in his videos that Prasac had cheated him. This wasn’t right and affected the bank’s reputation, and Heng’s failed deal had nothing to do with Prasac, Sambath argued.
Judge You Bunleng seemed to downplay that argument. Bunleng said the issue might have been individual, but Heng was a Prasac branch manager, recruited by Prasac, and what happened was wrong.
Even prosecutor Chuon Chantha appeared favorable toward the defendant, saying that Sida telling his friends about what happened was constructive criticism and not public defamation.
The exact content of Sida’s videos were not presented in court on Monday, and they could not be found on his Facebook page.
Sida said he had known Heng for many years, and Heng and the couple had gone to Sida’s home saying the manager’s job was on the line.
He had since sent letters to local authorities, the National Bank, Information Ministry and Finance Ministry for an intervention but there was no answer, he added.
“I have not filed a complaint. I’m just asking for an intervention to find justice, to get the money that I lost, that I saved up and I earned through very hard [work],” Sida said. “I am a poor person, a construction worker.”
A decision is expected on November 11.