The Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) on Friday said the land dispute between disgraced tycoon Sok Bun and 42 families on Koh Rong Island in Preah Sihanouk province was made up in an attempt to take over state land.
During a press conference on Friday, ACU president Om Yentieng said neither Bun nor the 42 families own a single plot of land in the area.
He said an ACU investigation found that Bun had colluded with four Koh Rong commune councillors and a village chief to forge public documents in a bid to grab 525ha of state land. The six have since been placed in pre-trial detention.
Last Monday, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged Bun, the president of Sok Bun Group, and the five officials with forging public documents, using forged public documents, instigating intentional destruction and embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds.
Yentieng said the ACU was also taking separate measures to seize the commune officials’ assets for their involvement in “money laundering”.
The five were identified as Uong Nith, head of Koh Rong town council; Seng Hourleang, Koh Rong commune chief; Hem Sa Les, Koh Rong commune councillor; Keo Som, second deputy commune chief; and Prek Svay village chief Keo Pov. The ACU said Bun was an accomplice to the crime.
“We [the ACU] are taking action against public servants, not private individuals as claimed. The five public servants were elected officials but they always caused land dispute through embezzlement and public document forgery to claim state land for personal gain."
“Sok Bun was the only private individual who had acted as an accomplice,” he said.
Yentieng said the crime was committed on December 19, 2016, when Bun spent several days on Koh Rong with the commune officials and village chief seeking to claim 525ha of state land.
Bun, the ACU head said, falsely claimed to have bought the land from a man known as Ma Ty.
Yentieng cited an instance where Bun and the officials wrote a date putting the year ‘1997’ on a public paper that was actually intended for official use in the 2000s administrative years.
The aim, he said, was to deceive the public that Bun had owned the land for a long time.
Bun’s land documentation was signed by an acting commune chief and sent to the “office of land management, urban planning and construction” based in the province’s Mittapheap district.
Yentieng stressed that the paper was obviously false as there was no acting commune chief at the time while the ministry had not been established until 1999.
He said the ACU investigation team found that Nith had forged 30 public documents, Sa Les 17, Som four, and Pov 38.
“Sok Bun acted as if he did have a land dispute with the 42 families over the 525ha plot. The families [pretended] to fight back, claiming Bun’s land was only 5ha while the rest belonged to them [the 42 families].
“So who actually loses the land? It’s the state that would lose 525ha,” he said.
The ACU said the protesting families were incited by Hem Lay, the son of Koh Rong commune councillor Sa Les.
Yentieng said Lay, who was an assistant to Koh Rong commune chief Hourleang, also mobilised villagers in an attempt to use violence against ACU officials.
Denying that the case was politically motivated, Yentieng pointed out that Sa Les, a former Supreme Court-dissolved National Rescue Party (CNRP) official, was the one who forged public documents for the tycoon but pretended to file a complaint against him.
“Sa Les had three plots of land and could use the land as collateral to take out a $3.5 million bank loan. It’s impossible for him to earn this much while at the CNRP, so don’t say I’m pressing charges because I’m a ruling Cambodian People’s Party official,” he said.
The ACU chief said when the government ceded 637 plots totalling 528ha to 298 families, Hourleang received 25 plots totalling 28ha while the villagers received just enough land for housing and farming.
He said Hourleang had put two plots of land as collateral to take out a $2million bank loan, while Sa Les use three plots of land to get a $3.5 million loan, though he did not specify if the collateral was part of the 528ha land.
The ACU, Yentieng said, pressed the “money laundering” charges against the six after Hourleang’s relatives rounded up people to protest the arrest.
Last Thursday, about 500 people gathered on Koh Rong to demand the release of Hourleang and the other officials on grounds that they were good public servants.