Cambodia’s First Lady Under Fire for Photos Flaunting Lavish Lifestyle
Critics say dictator Hun Sen and his family accumulate wealth through corruption.
The wife of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is under criticism for her extravagant lifestyle, after several photos of her wearing expensive clothing and accessories surfaced on social media.
The photos show Bun Rany, who is president of the Cambodian Red Cross, wearing an expensive dress, a Versace T-shirt, a Hermes belt, and several luxurious watches.
Criticism of Hun Sen and his family for their alleged corruption has been ongoing in recent years. RFA reported in July that the Prime Minister had been drawing attention for his taste in watches that cost more than a million U.S. dollars.
As part of a family that rules a country where some hardly have enough food to eat, critics say Bun Rany is drawing the ire of citizens by showing off her lavish lifestyle. They suspect the family’s fortune comes from corruption and the embezzlement of national wealth.
Sadat Samarthy, a Cambodian of the Cham ethnic minority who fled persecution to Malaysia, told RFA’s Khmer Service that the photos are a clear example of the family’s indifference to the plight of the Cambodian poor, many of whom have lost their jobs or are going abroad to find work.
“The Cambodian leaders don’t pay attention to the people. They are using expensive things and don’t consider the people who are living in miserable situations,” Sadat Samarthy said, adding, “Aren’t they unsuitable to be leaders or parents? This is a question that citizens should consider.”
Prumh Soprek, a villager from Siem Reap province in the country’s northwest, told RFA that the cost of the lavish goods flaunted by Bun Rany does not match her official salary.
“They should not show off or be so materialistic,” he said.
“Look at the poor people [in Cambodia]. Do poor people have enough food for the day? If they are good leaders, our leaders should spend money on their own people.”
He urged the prime minister and his wife to donate large sums of money to help alleviate the suffering of the people due to the COVID-19 crisis instead of wasting so much money on themselves.
Sok Ey San, a spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, told RFA that people who oppose and criticize the party are merely jealous. He pointed out that Cambodia has an Anti-Corruption Unit in place to monitor and investigate irregularities in the declaration of assets of civil servants twice each year.
He said that Bun Rany’s accusers lack evidence.
“Please find the evidence to show corruption. What is the corruption about? What has been stolen? What has been robbed? What has been sold and for how much money? If they can present this to the courts, the courts will investigate,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kim Sok, a political analyst currently living in exile in Finland, told RFA it is common for the family members of dictatorial leaders worldwide to lead extravagant lives while their people face poverty.
“When a dictator—for example, Hun Sen—has a multi-million-dollar watch, and his family shows off their expensive villas in front of the Cambodian people who are suffering, and the government cannot find a way to solve the issue, it means the government does not care about the people,” he said.
He added that Cambodia’s Anti-Corruption Unit lacks the courage to open an investigation into Hun Sen’s family because the government’s institutions only strengthen the family’s power.
RFA attempted to contact officials of the Anti-Corruption Unit to discuss Bun Rany’s photos but were not successful.
Luxury watch scandals, often sparked by photographs of leaders wearing pricey timepieces that then set off internet sleuthing campaigns, have dogged politicians in China, Thailand, and Russia in recent years.
“As prime minister, [Hun Sen] has presided over a kleptocratic system of state looting that has involved the forced and violent eviction of Cambodians to free up land for tycoon-dominated industries like logging, mining, and agribusiness,” the environmental and human rights watchdog Global Witness said in a July 20, 2018 report.
The resulting impoverishment of ordinary Cambodians has “[made] a small, corrupt elite vastly wealthy,” Global Witness said.
An investigative series by RFA examining the overseas real estate holdings of Cambodia’s ruling elite has turned up properties worth $30 million. In 2016 alone, at least $1.8 billion was laundered out of Cambodia, according to an analysis by U.S. think tank Global Financial Integrity.
Cambodia ranked 162 out of 198 countries, close to the bottom, in Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.