Kevin Weng, a senior officer at Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, took out three tuk-tuks and a motorbike in an early morning crash last week in Phnom Penh, according to police, and photographs posted online show the front-right side of his BMW i8 sports car smashed and tuk-tuks destroyed.
Predictably, the story was all over the Khmer-language news, with reports quoting mostly anonymous officials describing a crash and subsequent effort by the driver to flee the scene. But in the ensuing days, it disappeared from many of the sites.
Editors of the sites that took down the story either denied removing it, blamed the disappearance on a technical error or could not be reached. However, the owner of an expatriate online forum said he declined an offer of $100 to take down a thread about the crash.
Chim Dyna, a traffic police officer in Chamkar Mon district, confirmed the details of the collision and said Mr. Weng had been questioned through a Chinese translator. He said Mr. Weng had injured three men when his car crashed into three tuk-tuks and a motorbike at 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday.
“He was driving under the influence and he didn’t stop at the scene,” Mr. Dyna said, adding that tuk-tuk, motorbike and taxi drivers chased after Mr. Weng as he attempted to flee the crash.
The chase ended at the gate of the serviced apartment where Mr. Weng lives, and police arrested him on the spot, Mr. Dyna said. Those injured have since been compensated for their injuries while Mr. Weng was released without charge, he added.
Leng Ratana, the head of district traffic police, said the case was settled with a contract that included compensation and a promise by the injured not to take legal action, though he declined to say how much money changed hands.
Various attempts to contact Mr. Weng, deputy managing director for Huawei in Cambodia and Laos, through employees at Huawei were unsuccessful.
News sites that took down their initial reports on the crash include the popular government-aligned Fresh News service, as well as Nokorwat News Daily, Khmer Read, CamNews and Khmer Note.
Hack Yat, a web manager for Nokorwat, said he simply followed the instructions of his boss when told to take down the story.
“I work here, so what they tell me to do, I follow,” he said. “I didn’t ask what the reason was.”
Chet Saroeun, deputy editor-in-chief of Nokorwat, said it was an old story that had probably dropped off the site’s main news pages.
Lim Cheavutha, the CEO of Fresh News, denied that the article had been taken offline, despite the link to the initial story being broken and no other report on the crash appearing on the site.
“We didn’t take down that story,” he said. “I suspect that it might be your technical problem.”
Heang Samnuon, the editor-in-chief of Khmer Note, similarly denied having pulled the story and said the website does not delete stories after publishing them.
“I didn’t delete that news. It is still there,” he said. “I didn’t know that it didn’t work…until you told me.”
Daniel Mackevili, who runs Cambodia Expats Online (CEO), said after seeing the story show up on various Khmer news sites and deciding that Mr. Weng’s identity checked out, the forum posted an article online along with a Facebook post.
“Then on Nov 25 (Friday), 2 days after we published the article about Mr Weng, we get a message from Ratha Chev (Facebook account looks real and says they are the Account Manager at Marketing Solutions Asia Ltd) on our CEO Facebook page telling us, ‘hi i would like to ask for your contact for advertisement ?’” Mr. Mackevili said in an email.
Upon sending his number, Mr. Mackevili said he received a telephone call from what sounded like a Cambodian man requesting that he remove the article, arguing that it was a violation of Mr. Weng’s privacy, and offering $100 if he complied.
“I wanted to debate with him further to see how much they were willing to offer,” he said. “But I felt a bit hesitant to appear like I was seriously considering taking money to delete something, which we would NEVER do.”
(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)