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Nude photo snub costs needy

 Prudent or prudish? Dr Beat declines $91,000 donation

Cello-playing Swiss pediatrician Beat Richner has declined a $91,000 donation to his Kantha Bopha children’s hospitals which came from the sale of a nude portrait of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s new wife, former model Carla Bruni.

The decision to reject the donation, which was raised this month at a New York auction of the 1993 picture of Bruni, has divided opinion in Cambodia. For some, Richner’s was a prudent decision, for others it was too prudish.

“The photo doesn’t affect Cambodian dignity so there is no problem,” said Aun Hong, 22, the mother of a 15-day-old baby girl who was receiving treatment at Richner’s Kantha Bopha hospital in Phnom Penh.

“I am not insulted by the photograph. It was a kind and generous offer and should have been accepted.”

In Cambodia “nudity is not understood in the way it is in the West,” Richner said in an interview with the Swiss weekly Le Matin Dimanche. He said he did not want his institution, the Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital Association, “to be involved in the media exploitation of Madame Bruni.”

Kek Galabru, president of the Cambodian rights group Licadho, said Richner had made a shrewd decision as the Cambodian government would not have approved of the donation’s source.

“Our government never encourages people to get money from nudity,” she said, adding that since his hospitals treat mainly children, it was better for the facilities’ reputations to err on the side of caution when accepting donations.

“We have to think about morality in order to avoid criticism from the public or any sort of allegations that a children’s hospital in Cambodia operates using impropriate money,” Galabru said.

“If [Bruni] sold normal modeling pictures to raise the donation money it would be fine, but this is a semi-pornographic picture.”

The photograph of a nude Bruni was taken by Swiss photographer Michel Comte as part of a fashion shoot for the Italian Vogue magazine.

Bruni married Sarkozy in a secret ceremony earlier this year following months of feverish speculation by the European press over their relationship following the president’s abrupt divorce from his wife Cecilia Ciqauer-Albeniz.

Minister of Health Nuth Sokhum told the Post on April 16 that if the money had been donated directly to the ministry it would have been accepted. 

“Being Buddhist we would have to accept donations from whoever wanted to help us save children’s lives,” said Sokhun.

“If we reject the good will of generous people, it is not nice in Buddhist tradition.”

The director of Phnom Penh’s health department, Veng Thai, said he would have accepted the donation had it come from Bruni herself.

The money would have been useful for the hospital, he said, adding that the only kind of donations he would reject outright would be those coming from criminal sources.

Richner said his decision was made out of respect for his patients and their mothers. “Accepting money obtained from exploitation of the female body would be perceived as an insult,” he said.

But 33 year-old Kup Mab, who traveled from Kampot province so that his eight-month-old daughter could receive treatment at a Phnom Penh-based Kantha Bopha hospital for lung problems, said he thought the donation should have been accepted.

“We are a poor country and we need money,” he said.

Keo Than, 48, a farmer from Kampot province who’s 12-year-old son is receiving treatment at Kantha Bopha, said that although he didn’t approve of nude portraits, he thought it was a shame to turn down what he called a kind and generous offer.

“It doesn’t really matter how the money was made – money is essential to the lives of the children here,” he said. 

A security guard outside Kantha Bopha hospital on April 16, who declined to be named, said that he didn’t think accepting the donation would have offended any of the hospitals’ staff or patients.

“I believe all the patients who come here would welcome the donation and not worry where it came from,” he said.

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