Several political analysts yesterday claimed the recent drug production charges levelled against former deputy prime minister Nhek Bunchhay are politically motivated and may not even have legal standing.
Mr Bunchhay, formerly the co-defence minister in the Funcinpec-CPP coalition government and most recently an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, had his home raided and was formally charged this week with conspiring to produce drugs in a case dating back to 2007.
Mr Bunchhay’s fortunes began to change in June, when Mr Hun Sen learned of a phone call he made to the opposition CNRP prior to the commune elections, in which he allegedly promised supporters of his fledgling Khmer National United Party would casts votes for the CNRP.
This led to the Prime Minister stripping Mr Bunchhay of his advisor role, and then a purging of nearly 20 KNUP officials from government posts.
Lu Lay Sreng, another former deputy prime minister and a former senior official of the royalist Funcinpec Party who fought alongside Mr Bunchhay on the Thai-Cambodia border in the 1980s, yesterday said the criminal charges against his former ally are politically motivated.
“He had an alliance with the CPP, but went behind their backs and contacted the CNRP during the commune elections, so that made Prime Minister Hun Sen angry with him,” said Mr Lay Sreng.
“Now they have just dug up this old drugs case to use against him, so what can be done?”
A former adviser to Mr Bunchhay when he was co-defence minister in the Funcinpec-CPP coalition government was sentenced to 25 years over the 2007 drug case and recently pointed the finger at his former boss for involvement in the drug production operation that took place in Kampong Speu province.
Sourn Serey Ratha, president of the nascent Khmer Power Party, said Mr Bunchhay was initially cleared in the 2007 case due to his friendly relations with the ruling CPP, but now that he is out of favour, the charges have sprung up again.
“This means Hun Sen and the CPP have ordered drug criminals to form political parties to serve their counterfeit multi-party democracy to mislead the international community during elections,” Mr Serey Ratha alleged.
Civil Party lawyer for the Khmer Rouge tribunal Hong Kimsuon said the reasons for the charges are moot, explaining that because the case is already ten years old, it likely has no legal merit.
“If it’s a new case, the prosecutor can charge him with new evidence, but if this case hails back to 2007, did the court not have evidence to charge him back then?” he said. “This case is not logical and I see it as a political case that does not comply with the law.”
Mr Bunchhay was arrested on Thursday last week, had his home searched for two hours on Friday, was questioned until Saturday and was formally charged on Sunday.
A court document from the prosecutor’s office says Mr Bunchhay’s charges are linked to the 2007 drugs case in Kampong Speu’s Phnom Sruoch district.
In April 2007, a joint police force raided and confiscated about six tonnes of raw material used in drug production in Kampong Speu’s Phnom Sruoch district and in Phnom Penh. The authorities arrested 18 people during the raid, including 14 Cambodians and four foreigners.