Cambodian and Vietnamese social media users were shocked by tragic videos on December, 2016. A Vietnamese Facebook account had posted several videos to Facebook showing a 2-year old boy being tortured. This is the story of how a Dutch man became one of Cambodia’s most hated men over night.
Stefan Struik was born as a Dutch citizen in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in 1963. He grew up to become a businessman who wanted to found the first cacao farm in Cambodia. He had needed to own the land because as a foreigner he could not legally purchase land without a Cambodian business partner. He had been advised that he should obtain Cambodian citizenship, because, he was told, business partners in ownership arrangements often defraud the foreigner.
Stefan Struik took the advice and after paying $50,000 to some middlemen they arranged a Cambodian passport and an official letter from the Cambodian king granting him Cambodian citizenship. Cambodian law did not allow Stefan to keep his Dutch name. Instead he was named Ly Heng in his Cambodian documents. He bought land for the farm in Mondulkiri.
The name Ly Heng turned out to bring with it some very bad luck. A man named Ly Heng who worked as a truck driver killed someone and was placed on an international blacklist. Another man named Ly Heng was a big-time drug dealer who was sentenced to jail. And then there was Ly Heng, or Stefanus Lambert Struik as he had been baptized, a naive businessman who later proved that one does not need to be highly intelligent to write and publish a book.
A Valentine’s Day gift
Prison Passport was released for free on Amazon on Valentine’s Day. Unlike other Kindle books, Struik’s book does not work on Kindle devices, and yours truly read all 185 pages on a smartphone.
The book feels like a tribute to Struik’s deceased ex-boyfriend, Nguyen Thanh Dung, who appeared in the videos torturing the 2-year old boy. Struik writes in the book that he has forgiven Dung for his actions and describes how he helped Dung escape justice in Cambodia by fleeing to Vietnam.
Dung was sentenced to 18 years in prison in Cambodia in absentia and was ordered to pay a compensation of ៛80,000,000 Riel to the victim’s family. Struik volunteered to pay the compensation on behalf of Dung.
Struik writes that he was living in an apartment together with his boyfriend Dung and his evil-minded niece Do Thi Chau Giang. Giang was a pretty, shy and skinny prostitute who brought clients to her bedroom in the apartment and sold crystal meth through the window, but Struik did not notice anything strange.
Giang’s 22-year old mentally ill cousin, Tuan, was brought to stay in the apartment together for a while. Because the apartment only had two bedrooms Tuan had to sleep together with Giang, while Struik and Dung slept in the other bedroom.
One time Tuan had a severe wound on his head where part of his hair was pulled out. Giang claimed that it was self-inflicted, that the mentally ill cousin who used to stare out of the window looking down on the street talking about ghosts that wanted to attack him if he went outside, had pulled his hair out by himself.
Giang’s boyfriend had a small tattoo shop in Ho Chi Minh as a cover-up for gang activities. Struik writes that the group sold drugs and ran a child prostitution ring. Stefan claims that the child pimping drug dealers with a tattoo shop front conspired with Giang to extract money from Dung, and effectively Struik.
“Here I was, a clever and smart 53-year old businessman.”
Struik, the man who did not notice that his boyfriend was smoking meth in the bathroom and his niece prostituting herself in her bedroom in his apartment, was an easy target. He was quick to hand over $10,000 to rescue an imaginary person from an imaginary incident. Dung had asked Giang for help but in the end she turned on him because she did not get a big enough cut.
Giang installed hidden cameras in Struik’s bedroom filming his orgies and drug taking with Vietnamese men. She started drugging Dung by spiking his juice drinks with meth in order to control him. Dung used to drug himself with meth, but she drugged him, too. Giang also forced Dung’s 7-year old half-sister to smoke meth, threatening to harm her if she told anybody about it.
They eventually had enough of the evil niece and kicked her out of the apartment. Giang started to blackmail Dung with videos where he was torturing the 2-year old child. One of the 49 videos she had of Dung showed him torturing the boy on Struik’s cacao farm in Mondulkiri. She demanded that he pays her $45,000 or the videos would be revealed to the public.
The videos were posted online and Struik sent his boyfriend to Vietnam. He claims that he sent him to Vietnam telling him to surrender to the police. It is hard to believe, because the crimes were committed in Cambodia and the punishment in Vietnam for torturing a child in Cambodia is much milder than it is in Cambodia.
Knowing that the Cambodian Child Protection Unit had started a manhunt searching for the culprits, Struik seemed relaxed. He told the police that he was too busy to be interrogated but that he would hand himself in the next day once he had taken care of some business.
Around 6pm Struik and his employees were drinking and eating at the guesthouse where they were staying. A waiter familiar with Struik came up to him and showed him a video of Struik’s boyfriend torturing the boy on his phone. Struik sounds surprised when he writes that the waiter who was usually very friendly towards him seemed irritated, almost angry, having seen the torture video.
“You come with me.”
Shortly after a group of police officers ran towards Struik and his coworkers. While being handcuffed, an “Australian man who seemed to be their leader” grabbed Struik by the arm and said: “you come with me”. The Australian man was James McCabe, Executive Director of the Cambodian Child Protection Unit.
Struik did not appreciate McCabe’s work, which normally consists of investigating child murders. He wrote that McCabe’s “Nazi-style approach to the case” made him angrier by the second. McCabe wanted Struik to lead the police so that they could make an arrest, but Struik loved Dung so much that he wanted to protect him from the “Nazi” Child Protection Unit.
It is hard to feel even an ounce of regret from Struik’s writing. Throughout the book he spends more time detailing the nice-looking bananas that he harvested on the same day that the torture videos went viral and bragging about how he could do 100 pushups while incarcerated in Mondulkiri prison, much more than the 22-year young and fit handsome boy locked up for drugs who couldn’t do 10.
He only mentions the child twice in the book. The first time he describes how rich and famous people threw money at him when the crimes became public, making it sound almost as if the torture had done him a huge favor and turned him into some kind of rockstar. When Struik writes that “the poor boy in the alleged torture video became a national celebrity”, it feels like he doesn’t take the crime very seriously and that it may even have improved the boy’s life. As if his Vietnamese psychopath boyfriend had saved him from poverty.
“Such a minor issue with far-reaching consequences”, he writes unironically.
The second time the child is mentioned is in a parenthesis after Struik explains how Dung died in early 2020 because “his body was weak from all the meth”. Struik writes a few words about how he hopes that the child will recover from the trauma. It feels forced.
In the rest of the book, Struik writes in great detail about how his cellmates rubbed crushed goat bones on their genitals reading Arab prayers believing that their penises would become bigger, and how jealous he was of a transexual who could pay $500 per month for a VIP cell when Struik was rejected despite offering more money. How upset he was that Dutch diplomats brought him fancy cheese and books, but they did not pressure the Cambodian court to release him.
Struik gives the impression that the law in Cambodia should not apply to him because he is Dutch and the laws are different in the Netherlands. He spends almost half the book moaning about how the Netherlands revoked his nationality (because he naturalized as a Cambodian and they do not allow dual citizenships) and how his legal battle to restore his identity will probably help other people and how important he will be to them when that happens.
Prison Passport is a very sick book that at least offers some interesting insight into the Mondulkiri prison. Stefan Struik wrote it to clear his name and to prove that he is a sane person.
It didn’t work.