Amid Sokha Probe, Maimed Starlet Speaks Out

Feeding rice porridge to her young niece outside Phnom Penh’s Olympic Market in 1999, Tat Marina, then the 15-year-old mistress of CPP official Svay Sitha, was dragged to the ground by the official’s wife, who then poured a liter of flesh-eating nitric acid on her.

The savage act of revenge carried out in broad daylight left Ms. Marina’s lips burned to blisters; the skin on her face, neck, back, chest and wrists melted. Doctors had to remove her ears, and the music video star could not talk for months after.

Tat Marina
Tat Marina

Police never executed an arrest warrant for the wife, Khoun Sophal, and Mr. Sitha—who in 2009 claimed to have been a victim in the case—was later promoted from undersecretary of state at the Council of Ministers to secretary of state, where he remains today.

Such undisguised impunity stands in stark contrast to the recent inquiry into deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha’s alleged extramarital affairs, with anti-terrorism police investigating, an opposition official arrested and the case already in the courts.

The attentiveness by authorities in Mr. Sokha’s case has not passed unnoticed by Ms. Marina, who said in a message on Monday night that she wished authorities had carried out such a thorough investigation into the attack that left 40 percent of her body scarred.

“I still can’t get real justice. Cambodia’s judicial system is a joke,” she said from Massachusetts, where she received years of reconstructive surgery and now works at a department store’s returns desk.

“Cambodia’s judicial system serves only their favorite party. If they weren’t serving their favorite party, I would have justice,” Ms. Marina said.

“I’m not a political person, but I like for things to be equal. I want to see people treat others as equals. Doesn’t matter where they come from,” she said, adding that such equality simply did not exist in Cambodia.

“For example, in the cases of the rich and the poor, the rich will always win no matter what! If they couldn’t find anything guilty about you, they will find the way to make you surrender,” Ms. Marina said. “They don’t care if people live or die. It’s all about money and power.”

In contrast to the recent extensive investigations into Mr. Sokha and his alleged mistress, who until last week had denied the affair, authorities investigating Ms. Marina’s case after the December 1999 attack seemed less keen to prosecute.

Police at the time acknowledged a car seized at the scene was returned to Mr. Sitha’s family—“following orders from the top”—even as they immediately identified Ms. Sophal as the prime suspect and issued the arrest warrant that would never be acted on.

Rights groups for years bemoaned the impunity as Ms. Sophal and Mr. Sitha continued their lives without any consequences. Then a Cambodia Daily article in November 2011 led the Council of Ministers to publicly release a court conviction for Ms. Sophal.

Ms. Sophal, it said, had in fact been convicted in April 2001 over the acid attack and handed a suspended one-year prison term, which police had apparently been unaware of for the previous decade as they fended off claims of impunity.

Mr. Sitha’s wife never faced a day in jail for the attack on Ms. Marina.

Contacted on Tuesday, Tith Sothea, spokesman for the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit, headed by Mr. Sitha, said Ms. Sophal’s conviction scuppered any allegations of impunity.

“The court already implemented their procedures and handed down punishment. Did you just wake up?” Mr. Sothea said. “The case is already finished, so why keep digging it up and making problems?”

The spokesman rebuked suggestions that the different intensity with which the two cases were pursued was curious.

“How can I compare a case already punished many years ago to the present case?” Mr. Sothea said, adding that Mr. Sokha’s alleged sexual transgressions were rightfully being attacked by the state.

“Kem Sokha is a leader of the opposition politicians competing with the prime minister, so every action he takes must be correct and moral. For personal issues, when his partner reveals their love, it affects the public. How can he make people trust him?”

Mr. Sothea said Mr. Sitha was overseas so would not be available to comment.

Ms. Marina’s is not the only case where a senior CPP official has been embroiled in claims of an extra-marital affair that, unlike Mr. Sokha’s, ended in brutality and then went untouched by authorities.

Six months before Ms. Marina was beaten and doused in acid, fellow music video star Piseth Pilika was shot to death in broad daylight outside Phnom Penh’s O’Russey Market while out walking with her young niece.

The French weekly magazine L’Express published lengthy articles accusing Prime Minister Hun Sen’s wife, Bun Rany, of ordering the hit due to an affair the star was allegedly having with her husband.

Piseth Pilika’s sister released online scans of bank deposits for $50,000 and $100,000 alongside diary entries claiming that the money had come from Mr. Hun Sen—and that the starlet had been repeatedly warned that Ms. Rany might try to kill her.

The first lady’s alleged role in the case was never investigated, and no one has ever been held to account for the star’s murder.

Om Yentieng, who today chairs the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), was at the time Mr. Hun Sen’s adviser and released written defenses denying the claims leveled against Ms. Rany. Mr. Yentieng and the ACU are now leading the detailed investigation of Mr. Sokha’s apparent affairs, ostensibly due to concerns about where he got the money to allegedly promise to buy property for mistresses.

Mr. Yentieng declined to comment on Tuesday when asked about the Piseth Pilika case and claims that money was deposited in her bank account by Mr. Hun Sen, whose official monthly salary would likely have precluded him from such largesse.

“I don’t have time to talk,” Mr. Yentieng said, adding sardonically: “I am afraid of you, Daily.”

In a 2003 attack, popular singer Touch Sreynich was shot in the face and neck, leaving her paralyzed from the neck down at the age of 24. Her mother was shot dead trying to save her. Ms. Sreynich now lives in California. Four years later, 23-year-old singer Pov Panhapich was shot in the neck and paralyzed. No one has ever been brought to justice for either attack, though rumors of jealous wives and high-profile husbands have shadowed both cases to this day.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said on Tuesday that suggestions Mr. Sokha’s alleged affair was being pursued more aggressively than the violence against Ms. Panhapich, Ms. Sreynich and Ms. Marina were wrong.

“The investigations are not different, it just depends how much attention people pay to them,” he explained. “In the Kem Sokha case, the reason that most of the people pay attention to the case is because he’s a high-ranking official.”

“We are still searching for the suspects, but we haven’t found them yet. We never closed the investigations into those cases,” he added. “If you know who did it, OK, tell us and we will take action.”

“We don’t have a magic eye to find suspects.”

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