After being sentenced to two and a half years in prison in 2011 – only for a judge to say he didn’t have to issue a warrant for her arrest – Dy Proem, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cousin, has now been given the coveted title of “oknha”, a royal decree reveals.
Proem, 51, who has been a free woman while she waits for an appeal hearing over her bribery conviction and prison sentence, was awarded the honorific on June 29, according to the decree, signed by King Norodom Sihamoni and obtained yesterday.
While Proem and her lawyer could not be reached for comment, the bestowing of the title – one reserved for wealthy tycoons – came as a shock to Kao Ty, the defence lawyer of Huoth Sarom, a 70-year-old widow who alleges her land was stolen by Proem.
“I’m very surprised with this appointment of Mrs Dy Proem as an oknha,” he said. “She was convicted … and her case is still proceeding to the Court of Appeal. How can she be promoted to be an oknha like this?”
A month after Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Proem guilty and sentenced her to prison in 2011, Seng Neang, a judge at the court, said a warrant for her arrest did not have to be issued.
“Based on Article 353 of Cambodia’s Criminal Code, the court can issue a warrant for the arrest of those who have been tried and sentenced to one year’s jail or more,” he said. “But this article does not state that the court must issue warrants for their arrests.”
Lawyer Sok Sam Oeun, president of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said yesterday that there were issues regarding how oknha titles were awarded.
“Appointing a convicted criminal can discredit the title of oknha,” he said, adding, however, that Proem had a right to be presumed innocent until her appeal hearing.
A government officer at the Council of Ministers who asked not to be named said that to be an oknha, a businessman must pay at least $100,000 to the government.