Oknha Sorng Thorn, the owner of 5,000ha which covers a fourth of Koas Krala district in Battambang province, was taken in for questioning by the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) on Saturday in regards to corruption allegations.
In a move that civil society organisation Adhoc does not believe to be related to Thorn’s case, Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a sub-decree ending Mao Sochan’s tenure as Koas Krala district governor.
ACU president Om Yentieng and his assistant Yentieng Puthearith could not be reached for comment on Sunday. Nuon Bophal, the ACU deputy president, declined to be interviewed.
Provincial governor Nguon Ratanak told The Post on Sunday that he knew the Oknha – a title bestowed on those who donate at least $500,000 to the state – was taken in for questioning over a land case according to a joint complaint by residents.
But he did not know where Thorn was sent because the case is within the ACU’s jurisdiction. The provincial hall was also investigating the case.
Ratanak said: “Upon an investigation, the unit found a case. But, in the past and the present, there have been land disputes with residents.
“The province is measuring some of the lands to be allocated for residents and according to the actual situation, [Sorng Thorn] occupies a large part of it in this district.”
Ratanak confirmed that Thorn occupies 5,000ha or one-fourth of Koas Krala district.
He could not confirm whether the removal of Sochan from office was connected to Thorn’s case. But he said the removal of any government official from office was normal.
Sim Kou, one of the residents involved in the dispute told The Post on Sunday justice would be served if Thorn was found to have engaged in corrupt practices.
He recalled that originally, the disputed area was a forest where no one lived. Later, when the government established it as a district, residents without land moved to the forest.
Thorn and local officials, he said, claimed that residents had encroached on Thorn’s land.
Kou said: “This land belongs to the state. I have lived in Koas Krala since the beginning, and it is a social land concession for residents.
“The area was changed to Koas Krala district in 2002. Residents have gradually cleared the forest and grown crops, only to see Oknha Sorng Thorn demarcate the boundaries of the land to take it.”
Adhoc provincial coordinator Yin Mengly expects that the ACU will seek justice for residents. He said he did not know where Thorn will be taken for questioning.
“I received many messages from residents who have land disputes. They seem to express delight. I don’t know yet what documents the ACU has because this case is under investigation.
“But we want the authorities to abide by the law and if someone is found guilty, we must follow the law,” he said.
Mengly expressed doubt that the removal of the district governor from office was connected to the investigation into Oknha Sorng Thorn. Sochan had held the office for only two years. Under the law, when an official’s term is up, he or she has to leave office.