Phnom Penh police said they cannot question Duong Chhay, a tycoon who was caught on video repeatedly attacking his then-wife, without a second order from prosecutors because Chhay became a monk over the weekend.
Sar Thet, Phnom Penh police chief, said that the Municipal Court last week ordered the police to question Chhay.
“According to the prosecutor’s order police have a week to invite him for questioningbut now he has joined the monkhood,” Thet said. “We are waiting another order from prosecutor on what to do next.” He declined to explain why they could not question him and just referenced the need for another court order.
On March 15, Chhay’s ex-wife, Deth Malina, posted a video on her Facebook page that showed Chhay beating her on several occasions. Compiled from CCTV footage inside the couple’s home, the hour-long video shows Chhay dragging Malina, hitting her, and kicking her – at times with a child in the way — while other adults attempt to pull him away. In a lengthy post accompanying the video, Malina shared other violent incidents over their 13-year marriage including threats to kill her. She wrote that she was sharing it in light of her ex-husband’s attempts to gain custody of their three children and said she believed that after seeing the video the court would provide justice for her.
“I have already received pain, both physical and mental, but I have not yet received justice,” She wrote.
In a rebuttal video, Chhay defended his violent actions saying they were part of an old dispute and were warranted because she “restricted” his freedoms. On Sunday, he posted on his Facebook page that he was becoming a monk to return good deeds to his parents and to wash away all sins.
Kuch Kimlong, deputy prosecutor and spokesman of the municipal court said that the court received Malina’s complaint on March 15.
“We received the complaint and we will take action based on the procedure,” Kimlong said. He declined to answer further questions saying the investigation is the duty of prosecutor and police.
Malina is a makeup entrepreneur with a large social media following and Chhay is a real estate tycoon. The case has sparked a broader conversation in Cambodia, where domestic violence remains stubbornly persistent and female victims are frequently blamed for the actions of male abusers.
On Thursday, the government issued a royal decree stripping Chhay of the “Oknha” honorific — which is bestowed onto well-connected tycoons in exchange for large donations.
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs issued a statement condemning Chhay’s use of domestic violence against his ex-wife. “Victims, children and those involved must be protected by law and society and the perpetrators must be held accountable before the law,” the statement added.
According to a live video posted to Facebook, Chhay became a monk on Sunday at Wat Monny Prosithyvong, or Prek Pnov pagoda, in Phnom Penh’s Prek Pnov district.
Chak Sopheap, the executive director of Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said that his decision “to become a monk does not erase his behavior and cannot, in any way, allow him to evade justice.”
She added that the footage posted on social media exemplifies how domestic violence remains devastatingly common in Cambodia, despite gender-based violence being prohibited under Cambodian law, with protections against discrimination and abuse enshrined in a number of domestic instruments.
“Cambodia has an obligation, under international and domestic human rights law, to protect and promote the rights of women, which includes eliminating gender-based violence, Sopheap said. “Chhay’s case must be properly and thoroughly investigated and appropriate sanctions must be taken against him to send the clear message that gender-based violence is not tolerated in Cambodia and that perpetrators will not enjoy impunity.”
Chhay has a long history of violence, and a history of being given a pass by the courts.
In 2013, Chhay, who is the eldest son of Oknha Duong Ngiep, was arrested and charged for a violent attack at a Phnom Penh restaurant. After being sentenced to three-and-a-half years for pistol-whipping a man and damaging property, Chhay saw that reduced to just six months in prison, with the remainder as probation. Two years later, he was convicted by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court of having beaten and threatened to kill the son of Oknha Try Pheap — but walked free following the verdict after having his sentence reduced from one year to four months of time served.