Despite his troubles in court, government critic Lu Lay Sreng yesterday returned to the Kingdom after pleading for mercy from Prime Minister Hun Sen.
During the wake of the dissolution of the CNRP in November 2017, Mr Lay Sreng accused Mr Hun Sen of offering Funcinpec party officials $20,000 each to fill former CNRP seats in the National Assembly.
After hearing that legal complaints were being filed by Mr Hun Sen and Funcinpec party members, the 85-year-old critic fled the country.
In January last year, Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Mr Lay Sreng in absentia of defamation and ordered him to pay $125,000 to Mr Hun Sen and an additional $2,000 fine to be put in state’s coffers.
Last month, Mr Lay Sreng asked Mr Hun Sen in a Facebook video to seek a pardon for him and allow him to return before Khmer New Year.
Last week, Mr Hun Sen said he was allowing Mr Lay Sreng’s return, despite the legal troubles.
“No one should arrest Lu Lay Sreng. Please tell the authorities and police to not arrest him,” Mr Hun Sen said. “But other people [exiled critics] cannot.”
Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said despite being allowed to return to the country, Mr Lay Sreng must settle his cases.
“He has to follow court procedures when he is summoned. He can present evidence to defend himself,” Mr Malin said, noting that only Mr Hun Sen has the power to request a royal pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni.
At Phnom Penh International Airport yesterday, Mr Lay Sreng thanked Mr Hun Sen for allowing him to return. He also wished good health for King Sihamoni and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath for the new year.
“I am very happy that I have landed in Cambodia. I was away from the country for about 18 months. Now I can join in celebrating the upcoming Khmer New Year,” he said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay, who was familiar with Mr Lay Sreng, welcomed his return.
“Though he may no longer make political comments, he still remains a source of great wisdom for his younger compatriots,” Mr Mong Hay said.