The strange case of Monsieur Devillers has caused a lot of head-scratching and angst in placid Phnom Penh. One might wonder why. The man is français, of course, and they are a cut above the rest of us – le monde est à nous and all that.
But while the world may once have been theirs and Cambodia part of l’empire; times change and they are not so formidable any more.
So that cannot be the reason for the intense reverberations about this case.
Patrick Henri Devillers, 52, had, like many fugitives, been living peacefully with his paramour in Cambodia’s capital for several years and no one had paid any attention to him.
Nor did they pay much attention three months ago when word leaked out that he had once worked for Bo Xilai, a member of China’s ruling Politburo.
As well, Devillers had been involved in a close relationship – perhaps just business, perhaps not – with Bo’s vivacious wife, Gu Kailai. Hence, some imaginative souls surmised, perhaps he was complicit in last November’s murder of Gu’s British business colleague, Neil Heywood.
Even, heavens forbid, perhaps Devillers even knew where to find the dollops of money-laundered dosh that Bo, Gu and Heywood had allegedly stashed away.
In what has been tagged “China’s biggest political scandal” in decades, Bo has now been deposed, Gu arrested, Heywood topped – and Devillers holed up in Phnom Penh.
It might seem like a juicy recipe for a Luc Besson thriller starring Jean Reno, Michelle Yeoh and Gary Oldman, except that in Cambodia such shenanigans seem almost passé.
Here, we murder NGO leaders with abandon, toss acid in the faces of innocent young women, railroad families off their land and knock off meddlesome journalists and trade unionists with a bullet in the head. Cambodia is that sort of place. So should we get perturbed about money laundering in Chongqing, a Brit getting bumped off in Dalian and a French dandy being nabbed here? Give us a break. Look at the people we already tolerate.
Descendants of the Romanovs who struggle to pay their kids’ school fees, Moscow millionaires with a fetish for pre-teen girls, Belgian lotharios slicker on tax forms than Andy Dufresne, and even fugitive Thai prime ministers.
Cambodia’s door has always been open to outcasts and tempest-tossed wretches, fugitives from a cruel outside world where prison and worse befall those who naively transgress.
That is why Monsieur Devillers, under normal circumstances, should be allowed to remain in this sanctuary and not suffer extradition.
Indeed, there is lingering chagrin over his June 13 arrest at Romdeng restaurant on Street 174, which, as everyone knows, laudably employs former street urchins as staff.
We can hardly imagine the shock these youngsters experienced when observing nice Monsieur Devillers being hauled away by Cambodian and Chinese cops. The poor man even had to leave his electric bicycle behind.
Perhaps the Chinese have their reasons for this heavy-handed behaviour; as for the Cambodians, their reasons are the same as those that motivated them to return 20 Uigher refugees three years ago: Lucre.
Still, we must hope that Devillers will not be subjected to enhanced interrogation as would be the case if he’d been a Muslim and it was the United States not China seeking his extradition.
For remember, it has now been revealed that extraordinary rendition was used by the US to send suspects to a black site in neighbouring Thailand for torture. So it is not impossible that it also occurred here.
That being so, perhaps Devillers might consider agreeing to return temporarily to China to answer questions.
If he had nothing to do with Heywood’s murder or the missing millions, then he’d be better off going back and clearing his name once and for all.
The Frogs may croak, but let them mangez des madeleines while we ponder rather more serious matters. Remember Chut Wutty? Chea Vichea? Piseth Pelika?
Contact our regional insider Roger Mitton at email@example.com