If convicted, Thach Setha could face two to five years in prison and a fine of up to $12,250.
Candlelight is likely to be the biggest and most credible challenge to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party in July’s general election.
“For us, we think the case is politically motivated and not about a blank promise,” Son Chhay, the party’s other vice president, said on Tuesday. Candlelight will contact the ruling Cambodian People’s Party about the case, he said.
However, Son Chhay added that his party will also hold talks with those who brought the case against Thach Setha. If there is a benefit to doing so, he said, his party will find a way to pay back the money owed as soon as possible so that Sachsetta can be released and continue his political responsibilities.
A court document obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday said the court issued a subpoena last year for Thach Setha to appear before an investigating judge on Feb. 28 and June 22, but he did not appear. It said the court therefore issued an order on Monday to have Thach Setha detained. It said it had received a lawsuit from a company alleging that Thach Setha had issued five bounced cheques.
Candlelight Party calls on the government and the courts to release Thach Setha immediately and unconditionally, and to stop the arrest and intimidation of the party’s leaders and supporters.
“Candlelight Party believes that the arrest and detention of Thach Setha is politically motivated and a genuine threat designed to intimidate the Cambodian people into joining Candlelight Party’s political activities ahead of the general election in July,” it said in a statement.
Hun Sen’s party faces a bigger challenge from the popular Cambodia National Rescue Party ahead of the 2018 general election. It was dissolved months before the polls by a controversial court ruling that said it orchestrated the illegal overthrow of the government.
The Cambodian courts are widely seen as being influenced by the government, and the dissolution of the party allowed the ruling party to win all the seats in the National Assembly.
The Candlelight Party became the unofficial successor of the Cambodian National Rescue Party. In local elections last June, the Cambodian People’s Party won 74.3 percent of the vote and the Candlelight Party about 22.3 percent.
For decades, the CPP has held a firm grip on power, controlling almost every level of government. Hun Sen, the nominally democratic state’s authoritarian ruler, has been in power for 38 years.
In recent years, his administration has aggressively pursued legal action against opponents, hampering their ability to move freely and sometimes deporting them or imprisoning them. In October, Sun Cai of the Candlelight Party was convicted of defamation and fined a huge amount for defaming the unfair local elections in June and accusing the National Election Commission of favoring the Cambodian People’s Party.