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Gunslinger tycoons

121012 08
Armed soldiers outside the Peace Palace earlier this year. Cambodia’s well-heeled elite have a fine form in publicly showing off and shooting their weapons when it comes time to show who’s boss. Hong Menea

PM Hun Sen’s September 20 cri de couer beseeching powerful officials and their friends and families to not fire or wield their weapons in restaurants and other public places, especially those haunts frequented by foreigners, threatens to spoil the sport most enjoyed by the Kingdom’s well-heeled elite.

After all, what better way to note displeasure than to pull out the pistol you’re packing and let off a few rounds? It lets everybody know who’s who, it lets off steam and in many instances, for the rich, to paraphrase the Sex Pistols, it’s only their idea of fun.

Of course, at times, some amongst the privileged ranks do push the issue.

Indeed, little more than a week after Prime Minister Hun Sen’s edict, Preah Vihear police chief Mao Pov was charged for allegedly firing four to five shots in Siem Reap’s Lok Yen Hotel after a boozy Sunday night dinner on September 30.

Apparently he believed an “enemy” had followed him to his room.

On September 7 this year it was reported that the deputy provincial governor of Takeo had shot a karaoke-disco club owner in the foot, after firing off two shots over a minor dispute. But he fired into the cement floor, and one shot ricocheted off the floor into the club owner’s foot.

It’s unfortunate that he didn’t follow what seems to be popular shooting etiquette at clubs, which is, if you wish to make a point, you shoot into the air, not the floor. This was noted in early April 2009 when Siem Reap’s deputy prosecutor said charges had not yet been filed in the case of a shooting incident involving popular singer Tit Vichka at Siem Reap’s Zone One nightclub in October 2008.

The deputy prosecutor at the time said police were still investigating whether the singer’s action in firing into the air amounted to unauthorised use of a firearm.

Fending off gangsters is also a reasonable excuse for firing into the air, as evidenced in May this year when a tycoon who police refused to identify was questioned for firing into the air in Kandal province’s Ponhea Leu district, along with a military officer who doubled as his personal driver and bodyguard.

A Daun Penh district military police officer, who asked not to be named, said the businessman, who has been awarded the honorific okhna, and his driver were driving from a celebration at Prasath Mountain.

“While he was arriving in the district, his car was stopped by a group of gangsters there. So he fired two bullets into the air to threaten them,” he said, adding that no one was injured from the shooting.

Indeed the list of such incidents over recent years is exhaustive and could easily fill an entire edition of 7Days.

But when it comes to displays of pistol packing displeasure, the undisputed Hall of Fame candidate is Teng Bunma, once described as the “trigger happy tycoon.” He was the first president of Cambodia’s Chamber of Commerce, and he also owned the InterContinental Hotel in Phnom Penh and Rasmei Kampuchea newspaper.

When the now-defunct airline Royal Air Cambodge charged him $600 for excess baggage on April 8, 1997, he borrowed a pistol from one of his bodyguards and shot out the $3,000 tyre of the Boeing 737 from which he had just disembarked.

It could have been worse because according to The Cambodia Daily on April 9, the tycoon said, “I lost my temper... I wanted to shoot more of them, to make sure that all were flat, but there were a lot of passengers surrounding the plane.”

On July 21 Fortune magazine published a profile of Teng Bunma and writer Anthony Paul noted the shooting was, “Odd behavior for a businessman, you might think. But in today’s Cambodia… Theng’s shoot-from-the-hip style fits right in.”

Part of the Fortune interview read:

“Theng: You can ask me whatever you like but please report accurately, or I will file a complaint in court about you. Please do not play games with me. There are some journalists who have defamed me by writing that I am the head of a drug-smuggling ring... I would like to tell you that if Theng Bunma does something, he never answers questions about it inaccurately. If I say I will shoot you, I’ll really shoot you! Like I shot the plane’s wheel.”

Only a few days later, on July 31, the Associated Press reported that the tycoon, “… pulled a pistol on a flight on Wednesday, ordering the crew to hold the plane and fellow passengers to get off.

“Orient Thai Airlines’ response to Teng Bunma’s brief hijacking: an abject apology, indicating the airline’s desire to stay in the good graces of Cambodia’s wealthiest businessman.”

The news report stated that he boarded a Bangkok-bound flight at Phnom Penh’s international airport with his armed bodyguards and demanded the pilot delay departure to await friends who had booked seats but hadn’t arrived.

The crew insisted it would keep to its flight schedule and continued preparations for takeoff.

Passenger Yupaporn Saengtong, a news researcher for Japan’s Fuji TV, told Associated Press she saw Teng Bunma briefly display a pistol to the crew.

“He pulled out a pistol and spoke to the airplane crew and told them to take the passengers off,” Yupaporn said.

Yupaporn quoted him as saying: “I will not allow the plane to take off. I will capture the plane.”

The airline’s managing director, Udom Tantiprasongchai, apologised for the plane’s need to depart on time and assured Teng Bunma he was an important customer.

Teng Bunma apologised and said he had been under a lot of stress lately and had a bad temper, Udom told The Associated Press.

The plane took off an hour late.

Udom said the Bangkok crew didn’t know who Teng Bunma was. “We have to make everybody happy, but there are too many VIPs in this country,” he added.

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