The purported mistress of Kem Sokha, due in court today to face accusations she worked as a prostitute and lied to police, is having her name dragged through the mud for purely political ends and without any legal basis, legal and women’s experts said yesterday.
Khom Chandaraty, a 24-year-old salon worker who denies having an affair with the opposition deputy president – a client at her shop – yesterday broke down in tears as she spoke to reporters to discuss her case prior to today’s hearing at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
“My future is unclear, and my present is overwhelming,” said Chandaraty, the youngest of four children who hails from a small village in Kampong Cham’s Kampong Siem district.
“I cannot go anywhere freely; I cannot be happy with my family; all my relatives worry about me.”
Also known by her nickname Srey Mom, and her Facebook moniker Mon Srey, Chandaraty left her home village five years ago to work in Phnom Penh and save money for her own salon.
That dream is now in tatters, she says, after police named her as among the women featured in covertly recorded phone conversations, purportedly speaking intimately with Cambodia National Rescue Party acting president Kem Sokha.
Chandaraty, who denies it’s her voice on the recordings, has since fallen into the crosshairs of anti-terror police investigating a defamation suit filed by social media personality Thy Sovantha, who is referred to in the recordings, while Sokha is now being probed for corruption.
However, from the beginning, the tapes’ origins have remained uninvestigated, despite such unauthorised recordings almost certainly constituting a criminal act, according to legal expert Sok Sam Oeun.
“The law says only recordings permitted by an investigating judge for the purpose of an investigation can be legal, so any recording without that is illegal,” he said.
On the other hand, the accusations against Chandaraty, which she flatly denied yesterday, seem to have no basis in Cambodian law, according to Sam Oeun.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutor Seing Sok will quiz Chandaraty today over allegations, levelled by anti-terror police probing Sovantha’s defamation claim, that she worked as a prostitute and lied during an interview with its officers in March.
However, the law only punishes facilitation of prostitution, not the sex workers themselves, unless a solicitation is made in public.
“The law does not say [prostitution] is legal, but it doesn’t say it is illegal,” Sam Oen said. “[As for] perjury, they must be under oath and it must be done during the judicial investigation, not the police investigation, and they need clear evidence.”
The government, ruling Cambodian People’s Party representatives and even Prime Minister Hun Sen have all stridently denied engaging in a smear campaign, as alleged by the opposition.
But whoever is driving the case has political motives, not legal merits, in mind, said women’s rights advocate Thida Kus yesterday, suggesting they wanted to “break” Chandaraty in a bid to gain legal ammunition to bring down Kem Sokha.
“[They are] using her as an object for a political game, abusing the justice system, creating insecurity among the public [and a] feeling of vulnerability, and destroying trust in the rule of law,” she said.
CNRP lawmaker and women’s rights activist Mu Sochua agreed, slamming the use of “illegal tape recording” as evidence, particularly given “there’s no case in the first place”.
“This case of political persecution as in other cases will backfire as the public cannot be easily fooled,” she said via email.
Asked about the questionable legality of the accusations, Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said the hearing was merely to clarify the police report.
“This warrant is not accusing her of this crime; we just call her to clarify about giving false testimony and prostitution in order to do more investigating in this case,” he said.
“If the prosecutor cannot find the evidence, they will close [the case] and stop the accusations.”