Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - $1m to stop looting - Boonma

$1m to stop looting - Boonma

$1m to stop looting - Boonma

MAVERICK business mogul Teng Boonma has denied that $1 million he gave to Hun Sen

was intended to finance the July 5-6 putsch. He also confirmed giving $50,000 to

key renegade Funcinpec figures, but maintained that the gifts were not a payoff to

split them from the party leadership.

Flatly dismissing recent US State Department charges that he is "heavily involved

in drug trafficking", the 56-year old president of the Cambodian Chamber of

Commerce vowed to visit the US "one day".

Meanwhile, the man who earned international renown for shooting out the tire of a

Royal Air Cambodge (RAC) jet in a fit of rage over lost luggage and surly staff,

plans to have his own airline - a joint venture with Taiwan-based "U-Land"

- flying by year-end.

In an Aug 25 interview with the Post, Boonma scolded members of the foreign press

for reporting that he said that his $1 million gift to the Second Prime Minister

"financed the coup". The Australian Broadcasting Corporation and later

the Washington Post had reported that he admitted bankrolling the military campaign

that ousted Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

Boonma, however, insisted that the money was given after the fighting ended, and

designed to lure marauding soldiers back to their bases and quell the lawlessness.

"I don't want to talk about it again. I said clearly during my earlier interview

[that] I gave the money to Hun Sen on July 9," he said. "On July 7, I talked

with [Hun Sen] on the phone and said 'the military who robbed others at the market

must be sent back [to their barracks]. All of them should be outside the city'."

Boonma breezily admitted that earlier this year he gave $50,000 each to Funcinpec

breakaway leaders Toan Chay, Doung Khem and Ung Phan, but contended that there were

no political strings attached. He discounted his influence over the three.

"I have never known or talked to them [Toan Chay's group], but I wrote letters

to them," he recalled. "I wrote a letter to each of whom I gave my money."

Toan Chay this week told the Post that the payment never took place. "It's not

true. I'm not a piece of pork to be bought in the market," he pleaded. "I

stick to my ideology. If I didn't stick to my ideology, how could I have fought in

the jungle?"

But Boonma, meanwhile, obliged a Post request to provide copies of the letters he

said he had sent to Toan Chay, Ung Phan and Doung Khem.

He supplied copies of the letters, dated Apr 21 - one week after the the trio publicly

rejected Prince Norodom Ranariddh's party leadership and established their own Funcinpec

faction - which thanked them for "transforming democracy within the Funcinpec

party" and included a promise of cash.

"I would like to give you $50,000 for you to use in your noble tasks,"

the letters, unsigned by Boonma, read.

Boonma told the Post that the gifts were a peace offering and were not intended as

a political lever. "I gave the money to Toan Chay on the 24th [of April]. I

said: 'You have military forces, so you should be calm - don't fight each other',"

he said. "Be quiet and take the money and you can rejoin your party or join

other parties."

Responding to US State Department allegations that he is involved in the drug trade,

Boonma boomed: "They have no evidence against me. They just say it. I'll go

to the USA one day."

Threatening to "find a lawyer and sue the State Department", Boonma blamed

the press for the hardline US position against him.

"From today on, I don't want to talk to journalists. They never say my straight

words, but always twist me," he complained. "I clearly said to Hun Sen

[that] if I trafficked drugs, arrest me and call me a son of a bitch - not a human

being."

Boonma's tone softend when he spoke of his new airline and sifted through aircraft

catalogues pointing to the ones he wants. "You see, Cambodia has no planes,"

he explained. "Now if we want to go somewhere far away, we have to [transfer

in] another country. I want direct flights in order to attract many guests because

we have many hotels."

Without prompting, he recalled a series of unpleasant encounters with Royal Air Cambodge

which led to the shooting on the tarmac. It began when he was put in economy class.

"Royal Air Cam-bodge changed my seat to the back and said [that] I ordered it,"

he said incredulously.

"Once, I was about to fly to Hong Kong, but the Pochentong airport police said

that the passengers were all aboard and didn't open the door for me. I even phoned

them ... They looked down on me.

"Second, they kept me waiting for too long - four hours - on the plane during

my flight to Thailand and I only said to them: 'fly or not?'.

"Third, they lost my luggage. I appealed for over two months. They asked for

me to send a copy of my passport and I did so. But they compensated me only $260

- my luggage was worth more than $2,300. They offered me $20 per kilo. I said: 'I

don't want [it]. I want your four plane tires.' So I shot one and said that I would

take the other three tomorrow."

He recalled that he fully intended to go to the Cambodiana Hotel and beat up a few

Malaysian RAC executives, but calmed down after Prince Ranariddh dispatched Minister

of Tourism Veng Sereyvuth to hear his complaints.

A copy of a letter addressed to Funcinpec breakaway leader

Toan Chay, dated April 21, which was provided to the Post this week by Teng Boonma,

along with identical letters addressed to Doung Khem and Ung Phan. The following

is an unofficial translation:

First of all, let me express my sincere admiration for your recent action aimed at

transforming democracy within the Funcinpec party. I would like to highly value the

decision and efforts of you and your colleagues in bringing about new changes to

Funcinpec, which is a contributory factor in the development of our poor country

which has experienced fratricidal conflicts for decades. I think that socio-political

stability is a necessary and first priority for attracting more foreign investors

to come invest in Cambodia, which would help develop the national economy, create

job opportunities and eradicate poverty in our country.

Your commitment to work closely with the partners in the coalition government in

order to sustain this stability impresses me and makes me feel confident in a good

future. In this spirit I would like to give you $50,000 for you to use in your noble

tasks.

Lastly, I would like to wish you success in your just struggle to eliminate the dictators

and promote democracy and national development.

Phnom Penh, 21 April 1997

Teng Boonma [unsigned].

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