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Cambodian tycoon pulls pistol to delay airliner takeoff for friends

July 30, 1997

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ A Cambodian tycoon who once shot out the tires of an airliner after his luggage was lost pulled a pistol on a flight Wednesday, ordering the crew to hold the plane and fellow passengers to get off.

Orient Thai Airlines’ response to Teng Bunma’s brief hijacking: an abject apology, indicating the airline’s desire to stay in the good graces of Cambodia’s wealthiest businessman.

Teng Bunma has close ties to Cambodian strongman Hun Sen, leader of a bloody July 5-6 coup. Washington suspects Teng Bunma of heroin trafficking and has barred him from ever entering the United States. Teng Bunma, also president of Cambodia’s Chamber of Commerce, has denied involvement in drugs.

On Wednesday, he boarded a Bangkok-bound flight at Phnom Penh’s international airport with his armed bodyguards and demanded the pilot delay departure to await friends who had booked seats but hadn’t arrived, witnesses and airline officials said.

The crew insisted it keep to its flight schedule and continued preparations for takeoff.

Passenger Yupaporn Saengtong, a news researcher for Japan’s Fuji TV, said she saw Teng Bunma briefly display a pistol to the crew.

``He pulled out a pistol and spoke to the airplane crew and told them to take the passengers off,″ Yupaporn said.

Yupaporn quoted him as saying: ``I will not allow the plane to take off. I will capture the plane.″

Teng Bunma then disembarked, flanked by the two rifle-toting bodyguards, and was met by Orient Thai officials who had arrived to try to end the standoff.

The airline’s managing director, Udom Tantiprasongchai, apologized for the plane’s need to depart on time and assured Teng Bunma he was an important customer.

Teng Bunma apologized and said he had been under a lot of stress lately and had a bad temper, Udom told The Associated Press.

The plane took off an hour late. Airport security had no comment on the incident.

Udom said the Bangkok crew didn’t know who Teng Bunma was. ``We have to make everybody happy, but there are too many VIPs in this country,″ Udom said.

Asked for comment, Teng Bunma said only that he was free to go anywhere he wanted. He didn’t elaborate.

During Teng Bunma’s last run-in with an airline on April 8, he took a pistol from a bodyguard and shot out a tire of a Royal Air Cambodge jet in Phnom Penh because the national carrier lost his luggage.

The Washington Post, citing Teng Bunma’s interview with an Australian broadcaster, reported last week that he made nearly $1 million in gold available to Hun Sen during the July 5-6 coup ``to control the situation.″

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