TV Personality Withdraws Complaint Against Tycoon

Ek Socheata—the television per­sonality known as Sasa who became the subject of debates about gender and class in Cambodia af­ter a video clip of her being beaten by real estate mogul Sok Bun went viral in July—withdrew her attempted murder complaint against the tycoon on Tuesday.

During Mr. Bun’s trial on Tuesday, Put Theavy, a lawyer for Ms. So­cheata, who is in her late 20s, told the Phnom Penh Municipal Court that the two parties had reach­ed an out-of-court “compromise”—an outcome that the entertainer and her father previously pledg­ed to reject so that Mr. Bun would face the full force of the law.

A still image from security camera footage of Sok Bun and his bodyguard beating Ek Socheata
A still image from security camera footage of Sok Bun and his bodyguard beating Ek Socheata

The lawyer later told reporters that Mr. Bun had paid his client to withdraw her complaint, but refused to specify an amount.

Ms. Socheata, who did not attend the hearing and claimed in the morning that her lawyer had gone rogue in rescinding her complaint, admitted in the evening that she had reneged on her pledge to see the prosecution through, but said she had done so only out of concern for her attacker’s family.

“I reject all the news that I accepted money from Sok Bun,” she said. “I stopped my complaint, but it’s not about money—it’s about family. Sok Bun has a wife, she is pregnant, they will have a ba­by soon. He has been to jail and ac­cepted his mistake. Everybody needs a chance, right?”

Mr. Bun, who was remanded to provisional detention at Prey Sar prison following his arrest, has been checked into the Khmer- Soviet Friendship Hospital, ac­cording to a hospital administrator. He was also absent from the court on Tuesday.

Presiding Judge So Lina confirmed that Ms. Socheata’s complaint had been withdrawn, while deputy prosecutor Hing Bunthorn said Mr. Bun still faced the charge of in­tentional violence with aggravating circumstances, which carries a jail term of between two and five years.

The wealthy businessman’s bodyguard, who can be seen hold­ing his pistol to Ms. So­chea­ta’s head during the savage beating at a restaurant on Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich island on July 2—in which she was dragged ac­ross a table by her hair, punch­ed, kicked, stripped and stomped on—is facing attempted murder, hav­ing allegedly pulled the trigger only for his gun to malfunction.

In court on Tuesday, Seng So­vyna, a lawyer for Mr. Bun, said his client only lashed out at Ms. So­cheata because he had been drunk and unable to control his anger when she scolded him over his unwanted advances toward her friend, who was also intoxicated.

The lawyer called for the court to consider the defendant’s young family and poor health in its sentencing. He said Mr. Bun had a cyst on his neck and kidney stones, and that his wife was strug­gling to look after their three children, in­cluding a newborn.

“My client has already been imprisoned for more than six months, so please consider the difficulties,” Mr. Sovyna said, adding that Mr. Bun’s incarceration was only hurting the economy, as he was unable to hire new employees.

“I would also like to clarify that the plaintiff not only withdrew her complaint but also received civil compensation from my client,” he said, also declining to specify an amount.

Ms. Socheata has previously rejected offers of $40,000 and $100,000 from Mr. Bun, saying 10 days after the attack: “I will not make any compromises outside of court.”

The video of her beating sparked public debate about the behavior of rich and powerful men in Cambodia, and the perception that they have the right to treat others, particularly women, like lesser beings.

Politicians on both sides of the divide denounced the attack. In­terior Minister Sar Kheng lashed out at police officials he accused of helping Mr. Bun evade arrest in the days after the video was made public; Prime Minister Hun Sen called for him to be brought to justice.

“Looking at the video footage: It’s unthinkable violence committed against a weak woman,” the premier said in a speech. “Don’t think that because you have money you can fix this.”

Shortly after the footage was released online, Mr. Bun fled to Singapore, where he claimed to be receiving medical treatment for stress, among other ailments. He returned to Cambo­dia only after being called out by Mr. Hun Sen and was arrested at Phnom Penh International Airport.

While away, he relinquished his title of oknha and stood down as president of the Cambodian Valuers and Estate Agents Asso­ciation and his TEHO-SBG Development company.

After being questioned in court over the case in July, Ms. So­cheata’s father, Uth Thy, also an oknha, said that many powerful businessmen had contacted him on behalf of Mr. Bun, as had “three- and four-star [generals] asking me to end the case, and asking me to remove the video clip.”

Pressed on Tuesday on why she had withdrawn her complaint after taking such a strong stance in a larger campaign to stamp out violence against women, Ms. Soche­ata said her participation was not relevant to the prosecution.

“It’s not about [whether] I drop my complaint. It’s about Sok Bun goes to jail,” she said. “Hun Sen said even if I drop, he still has to face the court, the law.”

Thida Khus, a prominent wom­en’s rights advocate and NGO director, who has previously spoken out about Mr. Bun’s actions and those of other powerful men, said Mr. Socheata’s decision to withdraw her complaint was a blow to the push for gender equality.

“I don’t have the whole story—is it money, or something else—but it is very disappointing,” she said. “It weakens the call to bring attention to a case that seriously needs to be addressed.”

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