Cambodian singer says he received millions of dollars from Hun Sen

Sapoun Mi Dada has since deleted the Facebook comment and has apologized to the former prime minister.
By RFA Khmer
2024.04.26
Cambodian singer says he received millions of dollars from Hun Sen Cambodian senator Hun Sen walks past honor guards upon his arrival at the Senate building during the first meeting of the Senate in Phnom Penh on April 3, 2024.
(Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP)

A once-popular Cambodian singer alleged on social media that he received millions of dollars, a luxury car and expensive jewelry from former Prime Minister Hun Sen a decade ago – a claim that quickly brought an angry response from Hun Sen.

Sapoun Mi Dada, who reached his highest fame in the early 2000s but hasn’t released any new music since 2013, said he no longer has the money or the expensive items, and pleaded for financial help from Hun Sen and his wife, Bun Rany.

“About US$6.7 million, a villa, a red Mercedes, a necklace covered with 12 carat diamonds given by Samdech Father and Mother more than 11 years ago were wasted by my hands. I am a wasted man,” he wrote on Facebook on Wednesday, using an honorific for Hun Sen while referring to the couple’s patronage.

“Please parents, forgive me. I promise that I will be loyal to you and serve you eternally,” he wrote, adding that his divorce to Cambodian actress Soeur Sotheara has left him bankrupt.

For decades, Hun Sen has used his money and influence to attract singers and celebrities in exchange for their support. The effort matches his decades-long endeavor to maintain power by threatening or co-opting political opponents and activists.

Hun Sen wrote on Facebook that he couldn’t have given the singer that much money.

“This is a lot. But if you got it, what did you spend it with? Are you out of your mind or do you want to show off to people?” he wrote. “Almost US$7 million is too much. I couldn’t afford to give that to you.”

The former prime minister wrote that he remembered meeting the couple and their child at his Phnom Penh residence near Independence Monument about 10 years ago, and that he gave the couple US$300,000 to buy a house.

Calls for investigation

The exchange brought criticism from several Cambodian activists and social media users, who said even a $300,000 gift was inappropriate, given that it was higher than a prime minister’s salary.

An investigation should be made to determine whether the money came from the national budget or from one of Cambodia’s politically connected business tycoons, said Phoun Keo Raksmey, an activist for environmental watchdog Mother Nature Cambodia.

“There should be more clear evidence or reasons around the money given to buy a house,” youth activist Yung Nim told Radio Free Asia. “Under what conditions was the money given? The $300,000 should have been given to the people who are in need.”

Officials found guilty of corruption under the Anti-Corruption Law approved in 2010 can face up to 15 years in prison. 

Those who pay bribes for government services can also be charged under the law, which established an Anti-Corruption Unit, or ACU, to monitor and investigate irregularities in the declaration of assets of civil servants.

However, a 2021 report from Transparency International Cambodia and a group of civil society organizations said observers “describe the ACU as essentially being a public relations unit for the government that has been politically captured” and lacks “the power and independence to tackle high-level corruption.” 

RFA attempted to contact ACU spokesman Soy Chanvichet on Thursday, but the call went unanswered.

‘Bad manners’

Hun Sen added in his Facebook post that he remembered turning down an additional request for money from the singer and the actress.

“Later I learned both of you had bad manners, so I refused to help, even though you came back to ask for more to help pay your monthly mortgage,” he wrote.

“My son, your parents want to help you, but you not only destroyed yourself, but you wanted to destroy me through your posting.” 

Sapoun Mi Dada responded with an apology later on Wednesday, saying the total value of gifts from Hun Sen was about $430,000, not $6.7 million.

“The post led to public confusion and allowed a small number of opposition parties to attack your reputation,” he wrote. 

RFA was also unable to reach Sapoun Mi Dada for comment on Thursday. The first Facebook post appears to have been deleted from his page, which features a prominent photo of Hun Sen and Bun Rany.

Hun Sen, 71, stepped down as prime minister in August but maintains a hold on power as the president of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. 

He also serves as president of the Senate, a position that makes him acting head of state when King Norodom Sihamoni is out of the country.

Translated by Yun Samean. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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