If a batch of alleged conversations involving Prime Minister Hun Sen’s wife, children and top officials leaked to the media on Wednesday are true, privacy is becoming an increasingly rare commodity in Cambodia, even—or especially—for the rich, popular and powerful.
Adding to a series of leaks that have ensnared government and opposition figures alike over the past year, the latest set appears to show hundreds of text messages sent to the prime minister’s family and cabinet members since September. The senders seemingly range from gold brokers to casino managers and fawning pundits either asking for help, offering their services or making deals.
The alleged recipients include Mr. Hun Sen’s cabinet chief Ho Sothy, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith and several of the prime minister’s family members including his wife Bun Rany, daughters Hun Maly and Hun Mana, and sons Hun Many, Hun Manith and Hun Manet.
The series of 20 documents were sent to former opposition leader Sam Rainsy by someone calling themselves Angkor Borey, he said on Wednesday. Mr. Rainsy, who has been exiled from Cambodia by the government and lives abroad, forwarded them to the media with only a series of question marks in the body text.
A request for comment sent to Angkor Borey’s email address went unanswered.
Mr. Rainsy, reached by telephone, said he did not know who Angkor Borey was or whether the messages were authentic.
“I don’t know and I don’t care…because I am not going to take part in one way or another in this despicable game with very cheap people,” he said. “I just want to get rid of them.”
Asked why he then shared the files with the media instead of deleting them, Mr. Rainsy said it amounted to the same thing. He said he would have thrown them in the trash, “but some find trash valuable, like trash collectors.”
Mr. Rainsy said he had not even read the files, but added that “some people might find grounds for investigation if they are interested.”
The former party president was the target of a salacious leak himself recently. Last month, government mouthpiece Fresh News was the first to report on a telephone conversation leaked on Facebook that claimed to be Mr. Rainsy “seducing” a waitress. Mr. Rainsy has neither confirmed nor denied the leak.
The leaks started early last year with an alleged phone conversation between CNRP acting President Kem Sokha and a mistress, and has since included alleged messages from Mr. Hun Sen himself offering social media star Thy Sovantha $1 million to harass the CNRP. The leaks have sparked a series of lawsuits against the opposition; the prime minister and his ruling CPP have remained legally unscathed.
The latest alleged leaks could not immediately be verified.
Mr. Kanharith, the Information Minister, contacted via his preferred mode of communication with the media—his Facebook account—said he knew nothing about the alleged messages, including those supposedly involving himself.
“Never got mails from this one. Sorry. Usually I set to reject any mails from unknown people,” he said.
Mr. Sothy, the prime minister’s longtime cabinet chief, and most of Mr. Hun Sen’s children and relatives could not be reached. Major General Manith evaded questions when contacted via WhatsApp. Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he had heard nothing about the alleged leaks.
Many of the messages cover the domestic and mundane: children asking parents for money; acquaintances making dinner plans; reminders of gym appointments; New Year’s wishes.
Others touch on alleged business deals involving Mr. Hun Sen’s children and in-laws.
Some of the most extensive records in the drop belong to a number the leaker assigns to Mr. Hun Sen’s son-in-law Sok Puthyvuth, the son of Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and CEO of the local conglomerate SOMA group. The messages allegedly show Mr. Puthyvuth, who is married to Hun Maly, and his affiliates using connections with Mr. Kanharith, Senate President Say Chhum and the prime minister himself to move forward apparent business deals in real estate and media.
Billionaire NagaCorp CEO Chen Lip Keong’s number is allegedly shown texting with Maj. Gen. Manith, Ms. Mana and an army of employees. Mr. Chen, known in the messages as Tan Sri, allegedly discusses the running of the Khmer Times newspaper, is kept informed of the whereabouts of prominent businessman Lim Bunna in his casino, and apparently writes of a letter someone has “given to PM (on water plane project) so that I can follow up with [Land Management Minister] Chea Sophara.”
In another batch, pro-CPP political pundit Joseph Matthews, a Pakistani national married to a Cambodian woman, allegedly asks Lieutenant General Manet for help securing Cambodian citizenship and later thanks him for his help. Lt. Gen. Manet holds several top jobs in the government, but has no known direct or official duties processing citizenship applications.
The messages appear to show Mr. Matthews offering the Hun family his own help in winning the coming elections with “psychological tactics” and “fear factor.” Mr. Matthews on Wednesday appeared to deny contacting Lt. Gen. Manet about his citizenship, but hung up on a reporter before clarifying his response.
In another, convicted attempted murderer Khaou Seng Chanda, the wife of business tycoon Khaou Chuly, allegedly begs Lt. Gen. Manet—who also has no official job with the courts—to get her out of prison. Leang Samnath, a judge and deputy director at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, allegedly asks Lt. Gen. Manet to send a message to an unnamed minister on his behalf so that he can keep his post.
In yet another, a broker for Askap Gold Investment, an online foreign exchange trading service based in Cambodia, allegedly informs Ms. Maly of a significant “topup” to her account.
The messages are mostly one-sided, missing any replies from Mr. Hun Sen’s wife, children and cabinet officials.
The Hun family’s sprawling business interests were partially exposed by the U.K. advocacy group Global Witness last year in a report drawing almost entirely on corporate filings that were, at the time, publicly available on the Commerce Ministry’s website.
According to those filings, Mr. Hun Sen’s children and extended family were holding on to significant shares in more than 100 companies with a combined capital of over $200 million in sectors spanning the economy.
The prime minister’s children slammed the report as a conspiracy to sully the family’s reputation ahead of elections and claimed it was full of errors, but offered no examples except for one son’s military rank.
A few months later, the government scrubbed the Commerce Ministry’s website of the shareholder information upon which the Global Witness report had mostly relied.
(Additional reporting by Ben Paviour and Van Roeun)
peter@cambodiadaily.com
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