The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has rejected claims by the Candlelight Party (CP) that the recent arrest of its vice-president Thach Setha was politically motivated.

Setha was detained on the evening of January 16 on an arrest warrant issued by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in connection with charges for writing “five bounced cheques”.

According to the prosecutor’s office, the arrest came after the outspoken politician failed to appear for questioning twice over a lawsuit filed by Rin Chhay Pawnshop on November 26, 2019. It noted that Setha did not comply with two separate summonses, the first of which was issued on February 28, 2021, and the other on June 22 that year after a complaint was filed by the Rin Chhay Pawnshop on November 26, 2019.

CP, the country’s second-largest party, described the move as a “political case” and demanded his “immediate, unconditional” release.

“The arrest of Thach Setha is very political in nature and a form of intimidation to discourage the Cambodian people from engaging in political activities with the Candlelight Party. This is a move that will only worsen the political environment before the July 2023 general election,” it said in a January 16 statement.

“The arrest and detention of Thach Setha follows a series of recent incidents of intimidation by powerful persons against the CP leaders and activists,” it added.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan countered that the case was a criminal offence and an individual issue not related to politics.

“Those who said that this arrest was politically motivated were not aware of the facts of the deeds committed by Thach Setha, because he issued these bounced cheques. Anyone who breaks the law has no political affiliations in the eyes of the court, which ust takes action against them procedurally and according to law,” he said.

Choung Chou Ngy, Setha’s lawyer, told The Post on January 17 that his client had been detained at Prey Sar prison and that he had met with him there to discuss the matter.

“He [Setha] told me that the cheques were written in 2011-2012 and he just signed the five cheques but he did not write the amount of money in and he did not date the cheques to authorise when the money could be drawn.

Royal Academy of Cambodia secretary-general Yang Peou echoed Eysan’s comment, saying the case moving forward was done at the court’s discretion.

“Thach Setha is a high-profile politician of the Candlelight Party, which is a major opposition party. The party’s leaders [as the CNRP] won seats in the National Assembly at the last election. So, if legal penalties and legal problems occur it is easy to mistake them for political issues whether they are involved with politics or not,” he said.