An in-law of Prime Minister Hun Sen was charged yesterday with operating two large cockfighting rings, seemingly following direct orders from Hun Sen himself, who appears to have invited officials to shoot his errant relative if he resisted arrest.
Kandal Provincial Court spokesman So Sarin said court Director Hok Vanthyna charged Thai Phany – the son-in-law of Hun Sen’s brother, Hun San – with operating a gambling facility yesterday. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted.
Calling Phany the “mastermind” behind both cockfighting rings, Sarin said 60 other people who were rounded up in the Kandal raid were released yesterday after being sentenced to one-month terms that were immediately suspended.
Phany, who is also known by the nickname “Thai Mab”, turned himself in to authorities on Monday night after two cockfighting stadiums allegedly owned by him – one in Takeo province’s Bati district and one in Kandal province’s Lvea Em district – were busted by police.
Provincial officials previously denied rumours that the crackdown had been ordered by the premier or that the two raids were connected.
However, in an undated audio recording leaked on the messaging app WhatsApp yesterday, the prime minister appears to authorise police in Takeo and Kandal provinces to use deadly force when arresting Phany.
“You can contact Hun Manith to find [his hideout],” Hun Sen says in the recording. “You need to carry out the task. If he resists, you can shoot and kill him in order to end the case there.”
San Chey, the country director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific, questioned whether authorities would have taken action at all without the premier’s blessing, and called the release of the 60 others “ridiculous”.
“I want an investigation into this, because it’s not only one person,” Chey said. “There are also others who are behind the operation and authorities who did not crack down. I don’t believe there would have been a crackdown without Prime Minister Hun Sen making an announcement.”
Phany, an official at the Ministry of Defence, had apparently operated the rings freely for months.
Authorities in Kandal had been ordering Phany to shut his cockfighting ring since last May, but he reopened it in March of this year, according to the Cambodia Daily.
In Takeo province, meanwhile, locals said the cockfighting arena was widely known to belong to “a relative of Hun San”, and said it had been in operation for several months, with luxury cars causing traffic jams on fight nights.
Kandal Governor Mao Phirun declined to go into details about the case yesterday. “We should not talk much about it as it leads to a long story.”