Being awarded the prestigious Harlan H. Griswold Award for excellence in the restoration of an entire historic agricultural landscape in Connecticut, US, was a welcome respite last month for one of America’s richest woman Anne Bass.
It gave the well known Siem Reap identity some respite from the bizarre headlines she endured in the American press throughout March, which followed a spate of unflattering headlines in Singapore in October last year.
Bass, who inherited about $200 million when she divorced Texan oil tycoon Sid Bass in the 1980s, is a regular visitor to Siem Reap due to her role as vice president of the board of the Center for Khmer Studies, and stays at the Amansara.
But of late, Bass, who is said to be intensely private, has had parts of her life scrutinised due to court cases in Singapore and in the US which have propelled her into media prominence.
To further add to her chagrin, almost every article about her court dramas mentioned her status as divorced wife of Sid Bass. She loathes such reference, as this writer discovered when she lambasted him on the tarmac of Phnom Penh International Airport for having referred to her divorce in an article.
In March this year in the US she featured in lurid headlines such as: “Fake Virus Extortion Ordeal Had Millionaire Anne Bass Fearing for Her Life.”
And last October in Singapore she also made headlines when she lost a court case involving a missing US$220,000 diamond ring which she claimed she lost shortly after checking into the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore following a trip to Siem Reap.
Singapore’s The New Paper reported that on Thursday, October 27, Justice Judith Prakash released a written judgment that it was not the hotel that was negligent and dismissed Bass’ claim with costs.
On March 3, 2010, Bass filed a lawsuit in the High Court in Singapore against the hotel, claiming that the ring was lost or stolen on its premises on February 6, 2009.
One of the “suspects” named was the hotel’s butler Thong Chai Leong.
Bass had produced witnesses who testified that she was in the habit of wearing the ring frequently and that she wore it in Siem Reap, Cambodia before coming to Singapore.
In the period immediately before flying to Singapore, Bass had been in Siem Reap for a Centre for Khmer Studies board meeting, and for the “world launch” on January 11, 2009, of her biopic Dancing Across Borders.
This idiosyncratic film-cum-promotional-documentary was a sanitised chronicling of the transformation of Cambodian street dancer Sokvannara Sar into a rising ballet star on the US and European cultural circuit.
Essentially the court ruled that there was no convincing evidence that Bass had brought the ring to Singapore, much less back to the hotel on the evening in question after two days in Singapore which she spent largely out of the hotel.
Headlines in Singapore quoted Justice Prakash saying Bass was “forgetful and rather careless.”
A butler also features in a sensational trail which took place in the US in March.
On April 15, 2007, three armed masked men broke into Bass’s house in Connecticut, made “war cries and terrifying sounds,” injected her with what they called a “deadly virus” and demanded $8.5 million for the antidote.
The men blindfolded Bass, promising to give her the antidote once the money came through, according to US prosecutors in the federal court in New Haven.
The plot fell apart when Bass convinced them that she couldn’t actually lay hands on $.8.5 million in cash at short notice.
According to testimony in the trial of Bass’s former butler, Emanuel Nicolescu, 31, a Romanian- born US citizen who is accused of taking part in the scheme, the “virus” was an athlete’s foot treatment and the “antidote” was a sleeping aid.
According to an FBI affidavit, an accordion case that washed up in New York and a Cadillac that may have belonged to the founder of an energy-drink company helped link the incident to Nicolescu who had worked for two months as Bass’s $70,000-a-year butler.
A verdict has not yet been delivered, and Anne Bass’s public hell endures.
She is well respected by many in the Siem Reap community who hope that her trials and tribulations will soon be relegated to the past and that she can get on with doing the philanthropy she does so well. Especially in Siem Reap.