Ailing Nhim Sophea Recovering in Comfort

Nhim Sophea, the nephew of Prime Minister Hun Sen who was sentenced to prison earlier this month on a charge of involuntary manslaughter, sat in the shade outside Monivong Hospital on Monday morning, listening to music on his headphones.

Around him lounged about 10 men, at least some of whom were plainclothes prison guards.

“I have a stomach ache,” Nhim Sophea said, explaining his absence from Prey Sar prison. Then he gave a dry cough.

The 22-year-old convict said he could not eat or sleep and his weight had dropped from 76 kg to 64 kg.

Though not gaunt, Nhim Sophea appeared less stocky than in photographs taken at the time of his arrest in November.

His doctor declined to comment and the hospital director said he did not know about the situation.

Despite the alleged ailments, hospitalization has some perks.

Sometimes, his friends come to visit him, Nhim Sophea said.

And although reporters were not able to inspect Nhim So­phea’s quarters on Monday, the hospital is providing other amenities for him, according to Naly Pilorge of local rights group Licadho.

“It must be a serious illness if he is staying in a private room that has air con[ditioning], television, mobile phone and has been recently renovated,” Pilorge said Monday.

She added that her organization learned that Nhim Sophea had been staying in Monivong Hospital, where ailing prisoners and the country’s police officers are treated, since Feb 14.

Asked if he would serve the one and a half years of his three-year sentence in the hospital, Nhim Sophea replied, “I don’t know.”

Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Tan Senarong ruled on March 11 that the premier’s nephew was guilty of involuntary manslaughter and would be released from prison after one and a half years of a five-year sentence. Then he is to begin a 5-year probation period.

The trial took a departure from the conclusions of an earlier police investigation.

Originally the court had charged Nhim Sophea with voluntary manslaughter and traffic violations related to an Oct 27 car crash and subsequent shooting that left three people dead and others seriously injured.

Penal Police Chief Reach Sokhon said consistently over past months, including Tan Senarong’s judgment day and afterward, that Nhim Sophea pulled the trigger of the AK-47 that killed the two innocent passers-by.

Tan Senarong pinned the shooting on a previously unnamed and still unapprehended suspect, Sam Doeun, and said Nhim Sophea had tried to prevent the killings by wresting the gun from his companion.

Sam Doeun was sentenced in absentia to 10 years imprisonment for voluntary manslaughter and traffic violations.

After Reach Sokhon was reported voicing skepticism over Tan Senarong’s ruling and the guilt of Sam Doeun, the judge responded angrily last week.

“He is crazy. He is stupid. He doesn’t know procedure,” Tan Senarong said of Reach Sokhon.

“I don’t talk to reporters and say, ‘Oh, the police did wrong,’” the judge said. “Law enforcement should do their job.”

Little about Sam Doeun has been revealed, except that he is also 22, the same age as Nhim Sophea.

“I don’t know him well,” Nhim Sophea said Monday, speaking comfortably in English.

“He lives in Phnom Penh. He’s Cambodian, but he studies abroad.”

Maybe in Singapore or Malaysia, he added.

Nhim Sophea explained that he had no way of knowing Sam Doeun’s current whereabouts because he has been in prison for three months.

He repeated the story he told the court about trying to take the gun from Sam Doeun’s hands and maintained his innocence.

Nhim Sophea said that during the month between the issuance of his arrest warrant and the date of his arrest, when police could not find him, he had been out of Phnom Penh on innocent business.

He said he owns a hotel in Siem Reap town and has a home in Kompong Cham province, where he was spending time.

And his arrest was the unjust result of Cambodian politics—a smear campaign by those aligned with the Sam Rainsy Party and Funcinpec, Nhim Sophea said.

“You know why they say I’m a criminal, because I am Hun Sen’s nephew,” he said.

He pulled out Monday’s edition of Moneaksekar Khmer (Khmer Ideal) newspaper.

“The opposition paper runs the false article,” he said, in reference to a report that he had been out of prison and partying around Phnom Penh.

“I am sick. Therefore I must be in the hospital for treatment, and my friends really come and visit the hospital. If their parents (the opposition journalists’ parents) were sick, they would visit their parents too,” Nhim Sophea said.

According to Nhim Sophea, being nephew to the prime minister does not necessarily work in one’s favor.

“Why can’t the police catch Sam Doeun? They can only arrest me because I am Hun Sen’s nephew,” Nhim Sophea said.

He said he hadn’t had any contact with Hun Sen since the accident and shooting. But he had a message for his uncle.

“I want him to know I am not a criminal,” he said.

Shortly afterward, a guard sent Nhim Sophea to his room, reprimanding the patient and reporters for not seeking his approval before questions were asked.

Related Stories

Latest News

The Weekly DispatchA new weekly newsletter from The Cambodia Daily delivering news, analysis and opinion to your inbox. Published every Friday at 11:30am. Sign up today.