Teng Bunma, a reclusive billionaire dogged by drug-trafficking allegations, died at his Phnom Penh villa on Friday after a long battle with diabetes and high blood pressure, a relative said. He was 75.
He was pronounced dead at his home in Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district at 12:45 a.m., said Lim Chivhour, a member of his extended family. He is survived by three daughters and five sons.
Once the richest man in Cambodia, Teng Bunma owned Phnom Penh’s InterContinental hotel and the Thai Boon Roong Group and was a close associate of Prime Minister Hun Sen. He gave tens of millions of dollars to Mr. Hun Sen’s 1998 election campaign and about $1 million to the government in an effort to restore security after fighting in the capital in July 1997.
A former president of the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce who gained notoriety after shooting the tire of a Royal Air Cambodge plane in a 1997 dispute over lost luggage, Teng Bunma returned to Phnom Penh on Thursday after 14 years in Thailand.
He had been seeking treatment for diabetes and high blood pressure and returned to Cambodia when his condition worsened, Ms. Chivhour said.
“He loved his country very much, and his intention was to die here,” she said.
Known for his combative style and business acumen, Teng Bunma was barred from the U.S. in 1997 after being accused of involvement in the international drug trade. He denied the allegations.
Teng Bunma’s former holdings —many of them now controlled by his children—include Cambodia Mekong Bank, Olympic Market, Regency Square and the Rasmei Kampuchea Daily newspaper. He also had significant investments in manufacturing and agriculture.
In the late 1990s, Teng Bunma faced fraud allegations in Hong Kong and a civil case in Singapore, according to a 1998 article in the Far Eastern Economic Review.
The now-defunct weekly magazine cited official Hong Kong company documents indicating that he used a false name, nationality, date of birth and passport to register a firm. In the Singapore civil case, he was accused of violating trademark laws related to cigarette trading.
After the 1997 incident involving the Royal Air Cambodge plane, Teng Bunma admitted to shooting the Boeing 737’s tire over what he called the airline’s poor service. Then president of the Chamber of Commerce, Teng Bunma said the staff was rude after his luggage was lost and offered insufficient compensation.
“I lost my temper and control and had to shoot one of the plane’s tires. I wanted to shoot more of them to make sure that all [the tires] were flat, but there were a lot of passengers surrounding the plane,” he said at the time.
Three months later, Teng Bunma reportedly brandished a gun on an Orient Thai flight, demanding that the crew hold the plane for his friends who were late for the flight. He was not charged over either incident.
His funeral will continue until Wednesday, when he will be buried in a Chinese cemetery in Pur Senchey district, Ms. Chivhour said.
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