Acting head of state Say Chhum, president of the Senate, has stripped Leng Channa of the honorific title of Okhna, following the announcement that she will face charges of fraud, money laundering and issuing empty cheques.

Okhna is a royal honorific bestowed on people, mostly business tycoons, who have made significant contricutions to national development.

In a March 14 Royal Decree, Chhum said her title was removed at the request of Prime Minister Hun Manet.

Channa and two of her accomplices have been charged with multiple counts of fraudulent business practices. The charges stem from a real estate development project in Siem Reap province, which is alleged to have taken money from the pockets of thousands of people.

The Siem Reap provincial court issued a March 13 statement announcing that Channa, 36, and her two accomplices Chan Khim, 30, and Phon Samean, 31, have been charged with fraud with aggravating circumstances, issuing empty cheques, and money laundering.

Channa and her accomplices were arrested the day prior, following complaints from thousands of people who reportedly made down-payments on houses and land through her Brilliant City World Group development project, or put deposits into her high-interest development fund.

The complainants say they have received nothing for their payments, and allege that the whole business was a wide-spread fraud.

Channa has been under the media spotlight recently, as she has used images of herself posing with Cambodian leaders, including Prime Minister Hun Manet, or wearing the logo of the ruling party Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), seemingly in a bid to suggest she has close ties to people in power.

Speculation became so rife that in February, the Government Spokesperson Unit issued a statement to clarify that neither the prime minister or the ruling party have any connection with Channa’s Brilliant City.

The unit regarded Channa’s use of Manet’s name as an attempt to shield her business, saying this is illegal and affects the reputation, dignity and honour of the prime minister. The unit also requested that the authorities pursue strict legal action against anyone who misuses the name of the Kingdom’s leaders for their personal gain.

Channa’s case is not unprecedented. Similar cases have occurred in the past, notably in Kampot province, where an Oknha and his colleagues received jail sentences.

Although it is outside his usual area of expertise, Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute and well-known commentator on social issues, took to social media to share his thoughts on Channa’s case.

He explained that fraud was generally the result of an individual’s aspirations to make large sums of money without having to work.

Phea highlighted three aspects of this particular case which he found troubling.

He noted that the fraudster organised her plan carefully, using images of her standing with top officials to win the confidence of the public. He also suggested that legal action was not as swift as it should have been. Finally, he believed that the media had let the public down buy not investigating the case more closely and warning the public.

The Cambodian Oknha Association issued a March 13 press release, requesting that the media not link illegal activities by any individual Oknha to the broader scope of the title.

“The Cambodian Oknha Association would like to request any individuals or the media to directly refer to the individual who committed the offense, without attaching their scandal to the Oknha title. The super majority of Oknha protect the value of this title, contribute to humanitarian causes, promote trade and investment, and have actively worked with the government to develop the Kingdom since the beginning,” it said.

“In addition, the association is looking into the feasibility of taking legal action against individuals who use Oknha titles to commit crimes, as this affects the reputation and dignity of other Oknha,” the statement added.