Five tycoons pressured authorities to arrest a young TV presenter who was accusing one of them of a rape attempt, and bribed a lawyer and the press to shut down the case, Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a speech on Tuesday.
The case of Mean Pich Rita, known as Yubi on her show “MyTV,” gained social media attention a year ago following her arrest. Tycoon Heng Sier, who has construction and import-export companies, accused her of stabbing him, while she, in turn, accused him of attempted rape at gunpoint.
Hun Sen made a speech to graduating high school students on Tuesday and brought up his intervention in the case. Though he did not name Pich Rita and Sier, government-linked Fresh News reported that the prime minister was referring to the two.
“The girl was in custody due to the tycoon’s complaint about stabbing him,” Hun Sen said, explaining that he had his lawyer study the case. “Then the tycoon’s son-in-law went to buy my lawyer,” he said, implying bribery.
“[The tycoon’s son-in-law] said the prime minister was on the okhna’s side.”
The case had moved beyond a potential personal love affair due to the corruption and bribery, he said, adding that the pressure had led to the woman’s arrest and that the press were also being paid to silence the story.
He said that without his intervention she would have been imprisoned, and made a further charge: The oknha’s son-in-law had fabricated sexual images of the tycoon and victim. Khorn Chhun Dara, who runs Tube Cafe and local branches of Koi Thé bubble tea, was briefly arrested last May.
“This forced the prime minister to intervene immediately [to secure her] release on bail. … There was abuse by rich people and five tycoons were involved in this event.”
Hun Sen said the case was in the end “solved quietly” after the oknha confessed to the assault as neither side wanted to damage their reputations.
Authorities on Tuesday defended the lack of prosecutions against the tycoons.
National Police deputy chief Chhay Sinarith acknowledged there had been irregularities that led to Hun Sen’s intervention, but declined to name the accused tycoons to “preserve their rights.”
“No, there is no punishment. Overall, there is no guilt. … Nobody found any guilt.”
He said the tycoons offered money or gratitude to the prime minister’s lawyer to persuade them to not represent and defend the victims.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Y Rin would only say: “In this case, the accused has been acquitted by a judge,” referring to the woman.
Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin, however, said there was a case against the five tycoons before the courts, without elaborating. He would only say the case was “pending.”
Bunn Rachana, the director of feminist organization Klahaan, said she was concerned that even when the prime minister raised an issue of injustice, authorities still dragged their feet in prosecuting the case.
Law enforcement in Cambodia still has different standards between victims and suspects, — the weak and the powerful — and other vulnerable women were likely to face injustice when dealing with powerful people, she said.
“How many women in Cambodia are lucky enough to receive direct intervention from samdech or samdech’s team? Very few. Because in our country there are more than 50% women. Samdech does not have enough time to intervene in all cases. And he also does not get to know everything. … So the important thing is how to make our legal system work to be fair for both the victims and the perpetrators in front of the same law.”
The victim released a video upon her release from police custody last year, saying the tycoon Sier had offered to help her in her charity work before assaulting her in a car.
“When I close my eyes, I see him touching me. He had a gun and wanted to touch me. I was very scared. He wanted to hurt me. I want to go to my home in Khmer country, why are they doing this! They want a young woman. … They lurk after us but we do not agree, and they want to rape us and when they cannot rape, they charge us,” she said in the video.
Sier at the time issued an apology via the Kampuchea Thmey newspaper, owned by the prime minister’s daughter and tycoon Hun Mana, alleging that Pich Rita was a sex worker who “demanded too much money” and stabbed him.
A woman who picked a phone number for Sier on Wednesday said she could not give information about the case and declined to let a reporter speak to the tycoon.
Additional reporting by Mech Dara