Real estate magnate Sok Bun was on Monday ordered to serve 10 months in prison for the brutal assault of television personality Ek Socheata last year, video footage of which went viral and led Prime Minister Hun Sen to demand that justice be served for the “unthinkable violence.”
But despite finding Mr. Bun guilty of intentional violence with aggravating circumstances—a crime that carries a prison sentence of two to five years—Presiding Judge Sor Linna told the Phnom Penh Municipal Court that the businessman would spend less than a year behind bars.
“After inspecting and thoroughly considering the case based on the law, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court has decided to sentence Sok Bun to three years in prison,” Judge Linna announced. “He will serve 10 months and the rest will be suspended, with a fine of six million riel [about $1,500].”
The judge said Mr. Bun’s previously clean criminal record had been taken into account in his sentencing. Having already served nearly eight months in pretrial detention, the tycoon is set to walk free within three months.
Although the verdict was slammed by women’s right advocates, who had hoped the case against Mr. Bun would serve as an example of the courts coming down hard on a member of the country’s wealthy elite, lawyers on both sides expressed satisfaction with the verdict.
Ms. Socheata, who is in her late 20s and better known by the nickname Sasa, declined to comment on the case on Monday. During a hearing in late January, her lawyer announced that she had dropped her complaint against Mr. Bun. She said at the time that the decision had nothing to do with money, explaining that she simply wanted a repentant Mr. Bun to be reunited with his pregnant wife.
Ms. Socheata’s attorney, Put Theavy, said the verdict was fair, given Mr. Bun’s cooperation with authorities.
“Sok Bun reported himself to the police and he has been punished according to the law,” Mr. Theavy said, adding that an undisclosed sum that Mr. Bun paid his client as compensation had likely played a part in the verdict.
Security camera footage of the attack at a Phnom Penh restaurant was circulated on Facebook in July. Mr. Bun can be seen gripping the entertainer by the hair and dragging her across a table before punching and kicking her in the face, apparently because she prevented Mr. Bun from abducting her intoxicated friend.
Amid the public outrage that followed, Mr. Bun fled to Singapore, releasing a statement relinquishing his royally bestowed title of “oknha” and stepping down as president of the Cambodian Valuers and Estate Agents Association and his TEHO-SBG Development Co. He returned only after Mr. Hun Sen publicly implored him to face the law.
Mr. Bun has spent the past few weeks in a private room at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital, receiving treatment for kidney stones and a cyst on his neck, according to one of his lawyers. Contacted on Monday, Chhoeung Yav Yen, deputy director of the hospital, said Mr. Bun was still being treated at the facility for a range of ailments, including depression and stress-induced insomnia.
Thida Khus, an NGO director and prominent women’s rights activist, described the verdict as disappointing, but not surprising.
“The system is biased against women. It’s not just Sasa alone who receives this kind of treatment and violence,” she said. “Maybe people in the system have sympathy for him.”
Despite Ms. Socheata’s notoriety, Ms. Khus cautioned against blaming the victim for her decision to accept monetary compensation and drop her attempted murder complaint against both Mr. Bun and his bodyguard, who held a gun to her head as she was being beaten. (The bodyguard remains at large.)
“She is a member of the society. She sees there is a lot of pressure against her and her family and she decided to take this deal because maybe she does not have trust in the system,” Ms. Khus said. “She is going to be scarred for life.”
Ros Sopheap, director of the NGO Gender and Development for Cambodia, said Monday’s verdict flew in the face of government commitments to confront the problem of violence against women.
“That [the verdict] is not a model for working to end violence against women,” she said. “I would say this is a procedure for promoting violence against women in Cambodia.”
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