Prime Minister Hun Sen denied playing a role in the assassination of government critic Kem Ley on Friday, instead implying the United States and the Cambodia National Rescue Party were behind the hit.
In July 2016, Ley was gunned down in broad daylight by a former soldier days after speaking openly about recent revelations of the extent of the Hun family’s fortune. His widow, Bou Rachana, fled to Thailand before recently receiving asylum in Australia, where she led protests against Hun Sen’s recent visit.
“Now, I heard his wife is using the topic of Kem Ley to demonstrate against me. They said I killed Kem Ley,” the premier said to supporters in Australia on Friday. Many observers, including Sam Rainsy, former president of the CNRP, believed the government ordered the hit. Rainsy was slapped with a defamation conviction for the accusation.
Instead, the premier suggested that the CNRP is truly to blame.
Claiming he had plans to meet with Ley on July 18 or 19, just days after his murder, Hun Sen asked, “who benefited from the death of Kem Ley?”
“Not Hun Sen’s government, and not Hun Sen. It clearly benefits the opposition party,” he said.
“Kem Ley was not the one who was against the government, but made an effort to meet Hun Sen,” he said of the frequent government critic.
The premier also urged Rachana not to be “confused”.
“You are very mistaken, and now the stupa of your husband, I was the one who paid for that . . . Your family didn’t have enough money and made an appeal and I paid for that,” Hun Sen said.
Claiming he “respected [Ley’s] analysis”, Hun Sen said a “black-handed intelligence group” ordered the hit to serve the opposition party.
The CNRP was forcibly dissolved last year for allegedly working with America to topple the Cambodian government, a charge that has been widely dismissed as a pretense to ensure the ruling party wins the next election.
“They destroyed Kem Ley’s life because Kem Ley had the purpose to create a political party separate from the opposition party,” he said.
In an email on Sunday, Rainsy dismissed Hun Sen’s “crazy accusation”, saying it was meant to divert attention from Hun Sen’s own alleged culpability, and was hypocritical given he sued Rainsy for suggesting the government was behind the murder. “Where is Hun Sen’s sense of honour and his priority in ‘defending’ the truth?” Rainsy asked.
Ex-CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua repeated a challenge that opposition figures have presented from the beginning: that Hun Sen set up “an independent investigation in the killing”.
In an interview with Radio Free Asia on Saturday, Rachana also rejected claims America or the CNRP were behind the murder, noting the government harassed the family over Ley’s funeral procession. “If [Hun Sen] is good and he loves my husband, why did he try to prevent us every time?” she asked.