Pol Pot's car: any offers?

A ghoulish piece of memorabilia goes on sale on eBay

For collectors of ghoulish memorabilia with at least £35,000 to spare, Christmas came early. A black Mercedes Benz limousine reportedly owned by Pol Pot, the late leader of Cambodia's infamous Khmer Rouge, was put up for sale on the online auction site eBay.

"Everyone keeps talking about bloodstains on the back seats, but it had been used by farmers for transporting watermelons for the last five years," says Paul Freer, a financial consultant who bought the car in 2001 for just over £1,000.

The Khmer Rouge used a number of black Mercedes Benz vehicles to ferry dignitaries around and, because the regime destroyed all official records, no documents exist to prove that Pol Pot ever used the car. Nonetheless, Freer is certain: "It was always known as Pol Pot's car. Nobody else during that time would have used a car like that - they'd have been killed for owning it. I've seen smaller saloon models but I've never seen any other car of its type in Cambodia."

Freer's Cambodian wife, Chhea Lina, who was against Freer's purchase, says her father remembers seeing the car driving around with Pol Pot inside. According to its eBay listing, "the car has been used by its current owner for Sunday drives around Phnom Penh and the outskirts". Quite what the local population made of the distinctive black limousine swaying ponderously over Phnom Penh's potholed roads, is hard to imagine. "My wife would never get into the car," admits Freer. "Other Cambodians regarded it with amusement."

The Khmer Rouge seized power in 1975 after five years of civil war. In a crude attempt at "restarting history", the murderous regime emptied the cities and herded the population into the countryside to work on collective farms and forced labour projects. Phnom Penh became a ghost town overnight. In four years, more than a million people were executed or succumbed to disease and starvation; some estimates put the figure closer to three million.

Pol Pot escaped justice. In 1979 he fled into the jungle of north-west Cambodia after an invasion by Vietnam ousted the Khmer Rouge. He died in 1998, reportedly of a heart attack.

"I like old cars," says Freer. "This one had a bit of history, which made it interesting, and then there was the challenge of renovating it. You can get a lot done in Cambodia for not much money."

Freer decided to sell the car and donate part of the proceeds to a Cambodian children's charity after he moved to Vientiane, the capital of neighbouring Laos. "I thought maybe a Las Vegas casino might buy it," says Freer. "Or perhaps a collector interested in cars belonging to the likes of Stalin and Mussolini. Without its special heritage it would be worth around £5,000."

The car was put on display at the Renakse Hotel in Phnom Penh, opposite the Royal Palace - a tourist attraction, albeit a rather less macabre one than the killing fields and the infamous Tuol Sleng torture centre.

This article first appeared in the 05 November 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Iraq uncovered