CAMBODIAN PRIME MINISTER Hun Sen has threatened to seize the property of opposition leader Sam Rainsy and sell the party’s headquarters if he wins a defamation case against the exiled politician.
The $1 million (€926,000) lawsuit is the latest in a string of legal cases targeting Cambodian opposition leaders trying to break Hun Sen’s 32-year grip on power.
Rights groups say the strongman is trying to keep his opponents under pressure ahead of local elections this year and a general election in 2018.
Hun Sen filed the latest defamation case against top foe Rainsy after he accused the premier of bribery in a speech several weeks ago.
“I am waiting for the verdict to be finalised. This time, I will take money… I am demanding $1 million,” the premier said during a parliamentary session this week.
“I heard the party’s headquarters is registered under the name of Sam Rainsy, so the party’s headquarters will be auctioned,” he told the assembly, adding that the politician’s personal property would also be “frozen… and sold”.
The money would be used to build houses for handicapped people, he added.
Rainsy, who currently lives in France and faces several lawsuits, was sentenced to five years in prison in December over a post on his Facebook page, a conviction that makes his return from self-imposed exile unlikely.
Hun Sen has also proposed amending a political party law to bar convicts from serving as party leaders – a clear dig at Rainsy and his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
The premier’s ruling party also voted to strip the CNRP’s acting head Kem Sokha of his title of minority leader.
Responding on Twitter, Rainsy sought to brand Hun Sen’s threats as signs that he was “panicking” ahead of looming elections.
“Hun Sen can no longer appeal to electorate, so personally hounds me, as symbol of resistance to autocratic, corrupt power,” he wrote.
Hun Sen has amassed extensive control over Cambodia’s government and economy during his three decades in power and has a history of ruthlessly undercutting his rivals.
He claims to have brought much needed peace and stability to a nation ravaged by civil war and the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime.
But opposition groups have drawn growing support in recent years amid disillusionment with the endemic corruption and rights abuses that have flourished under his watch.
An investigation by Global Witness last year accused the premier and his relatives of carving a $200 million (€185 million) business empire out of the impoverished country’s economy to buttress their political power.
The government dismissed the report but did not directly address the specific allegations detailed by researchers.
Rainsy’s opposition party made huge gains in the 2013 elections and say they only lost because the vote was stolen – a claim Hun Sen has vigorously rejected.