A Sok Bun fight

July 19, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, local Cambodian property tycoon Sok Bun was having a quiet dinner in a Japanese restaurant with two local women and his bodyguard. Towards the end of the evening, he began to become frustrated that his not necessarily inconsiderable charms weren’t having the desired effect upon the ladies, and he began to become more insistent in his demands for some form of intimacy.

Real estate tycoon Sok Bun

Real estate tycoon Sok Bun

In an effort to rein in Sok Bun’s overenthusiasm, one of the ladies threw a mobile phone at him. He rather took offence at this, and responded by attacking the woman, slamming her head against the floor, kicking and pounding her skull and punching her, for some time. A terrified waiter tried to intervene, but was stopped by Sok’s bodyguard, who was waving a pistol at the head of the victim. Eventually, Sok was pulled off, and out of the restaurant.

Now, normally in Cambodia, this wouldn’t be an event of much note. Sok Bun is hugely wealthy, is an okhna (an honorific awarded to anyone who has given the government more than $100,000) and was chairman of the Cambodia Valuers and Estate Agents Association. He is precisely the sort of person who can get away with beating like a gong whomsoever he wishes.

Of all the terrible people in this lovely little country, property developers are probably the worst. The astronomical amounts of money to be made in the country’s overheating property market seem to attract a special type of scumbag, with thousands of families violently evicted from their makeshift homes for pointless building projects, shootings and stabbings, and even the throwing of venomous snakes into people’s houses to encourage them to move. All of this is widely accepted here.

But Sok Bun’s victim, in this case, was a bit savvier than usual. She managed, when she got out of hospital, to get CCTV footage of the attack, and she posted it on Facebook, where it quickly went viral. The victim is a well-known Cambodian TV personality known as Ms Sasa, and she wasn’t going to take this lying down. Already she has turned down two offers from Sok, of $40,000 and then $100,000, to drop the case, saying she wants justice, not money.

Sok Bun had, by this time, fled to Singapore, which probably isn’t the best place in the region to go if you want to escape the rule of law. He claimed to be suffering from some unspecified illness. But even Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen weighed in, saying: “Don’t think that because you have money you can escape,” and Sok flew back to Phnom Penh on Saturday, where he was arrested at the airport, and is now languishing in Prey Sar jail, awaiting trial. If Hun Sen has taken against him, then it’s not looking good.

Sok’s slightly unlikely arrest follows the April capture of another okhna, Thong Sarath, in Vietnam, for the murder of yet another okhna. While one shouldn’t take any pleasure from the sight of these fine, upstanding entrepreneurs starting to fight each other like rats in a sack, one has to wonder whether, with the resurgence of the opposition CNRP, they can see a day when impunity might not be automatic. One certainly hopes so.

Sok Bun's latest project, the $500 million The Bay hotel and apartment complex. It has been suggested that he also be arrested for crimes against architecture.

Sok Bun’s latest project, the $500 million The Bay hotel and apartment complex. It has been suggested that he also be arrested for crimes against architecture.

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Shooting pains

December 8, 2014

As Cambodia slips back into its usual state of torpor after the excitements of last year’s elections, local journalists are scratching around to find much to write about. At least until two weeks ago, when a local businessman was shot to death on the street, a shooting which has captivated the nation.

Businessman Ung Meng Cheu was shot six times outside a fruit shop in central Phnom Penh on November 22 and died at the scene. Security camera footage of the shooting was circulated widely, and can be seen below. However, if you don’t enjoy watching someone getting gunned down and actually dying, then I’d advise against it.

The police, moving unusually quickly, named another local tycoon called Thong Sarath as the man behind the shooting. As well has his business interests, Sarath is a deputy cabinet chief at the Ministry of Defence and one-time member of the government’s Brigade 70 military unit.

Countless allegations have been levelled against Brigade 70 since its inception, including claims of murder, fatal crackdowns and political arrests, which critics say were carried out with impunity. A 2007 report by environmental group Global Witness accused the unit of running a logging and contraband trafficking operation worth more than $2 million a year.

But Sarath has disappeared, with rumours saying that he’s fled to Vietnam. No one expects him to surface any time soon.

The police have arrested a number of his bodyguards, and charged them with the murder, after raiding a number of his houses.

In a bizarre press conference just hours before the raid, his mother, Keo Sary, defended her son from allegations of involvement in the killing.

Dripping with expensive jewellery, boasting about her family’s wealth and even at one point counting wads of banknotes, which she later handed out to journalists, Sary said her son had gone into hiding to escape arrest over a crime he did not commit.

But last night, both parents were remanded on charges of gun possession, and could face up to three years in jail.

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Before their remand, Sarath’s parents emerged from questioning to apologise to Phnom Penh’s police chief, whom they had threatened to have fired for investigating their son.

This story will run and run. Local journalists are delighted.