In 1955, at the first nationwide beauty contest ever staged in the remote Indo-Chinese kingdom of Cambodia, Vice Premier Sam Sary was more than an interested spectator. The judges could choose only one winner, but Sary, a suave, Paris-educated ladies' man, picked two. In no time at all, the judges' first choice, coffee-skinned, sarong-clad Tep Kanary, was installed in Sary's household. Later he added Iv Eng Seng, who was only an also-ran with judges, to his collection.
Hero in Trouble. In Cambodia, this was all right with everybody. Besides, Sam Sary was somebody special. As a delegate to the Geneva Conference that ended the Indo-Chinese war in 1954, Sam Sary had become a hero by leading the fight to prevent partition of Cambodia between Communists and nonCommunists. Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the King who resigned to become Cambodia's Premier, rewarded his longtime friend and admirer (Sary is the Prince's biographer) by promoting Sary to the vice-premiership.
Then trouble became "Sad Sam" Sary's middle name (TIME, June 10, 1957). Last summer powerful political enemies complained that Sary was granting profitable import licenses to the wrong people, i.e., someone other than Sary's accusers. Tears in eyes, Sary crawled before Sihanouk on hands and knees and asked to be relieved of his job. Tears in eyes, Sihanouk let him go. In remorse, Sary shaved his head and eyebrows, entered a Buddhist monastery.
In January of this year Sary was packed off into gilded exile as Cambodia's Ambassador to Britain. Sary's entourage: his formidable No. 1 wife, Em, a plump suffragette, and their five children, ranging in age from 8 to 18; Tep Kanary, the young beauty queen, Sam's No. 2 wife and No. 1 mistress; the other beauty, Iv Eng Seng, was either No. 3 wife or No. 2 mistress. To get around British sensibilities, Iv Eng Seng was listed as a governess. Whose business was it that she was also pregnant? Sam Sary called on Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace and presented his credentials.
Switch of String. Last month the idyllic arrangement came to an abrupt end. Iv Eng Seng fled from the embassy with her month-old baby boy to a London nursing home and complained that Sary had severely beaten her "for minor mistakes." Nonsense, replied Ambassador Sary gallantly: "I corrected her by hitting her with a Cambodian string whip. I never hit her on the face, always across the back and the thighsa common sort of punishment in my country." Besides, said Sary, warming to his subject, he had every right under Cambodian law (he meant Cambodian custom) to whip the girl, because the embassy is "Cambodia in London." Ambassador Sary got off a protest to the British Foreign Office, objecting to Iv Eng Seng's complaints. Iv Eng Seng applied to Home Minister Richard A. ("Rab") Butler, asking for asylum.