Kampot provincial police arrested Chea Saron, who holds the honorific title Oknha, and his eight accomplices for alleged fraud perpetrated on over 2,000 families, bilking them out of nearly $40 million total through “scam” real estate projects.

The arrest came right after Saron and his accomplices were invited by provincial governor Mao Thonin to a public meeting with 2,461 families in Chhouk district on April 22, as part of a conflict resolution mechanism outside of the courts system.

Saron’s arrest, police said, may indicate that evidence has emerged that he never intended to fulfil his end of the bargain with the victims when he took their money or that he engaged in deceptive practices in order to convince them to buy in.

“I call on our people who have been cheated to stay calm and not panic. Please trust the provincial governor and legal enforcement entities, prosecutor and provincial court president to find justice for you over this ‘investment’ that has earned you nothing but tears,” the provincial police said in an April 23 social media post.

Provincial police chief Mao Chanmathurith confirmed that the nine suspects have been detained, but he declined to comment further, citing an ongoing investigation.

Chea Saron is chairman of Chea Saron Realty. The company previously announced that they would build affordable condos for people such as factory workers, tuk tuk drivers and small business owners who earn low to mid-size incomes in order for them to be able to own a home instead of living in rented units.

But Kampot residents had request Thonin to help solve their problem after the company had persuaded them to invest in some projects, making some people trust their investment and borrowed money from banks to join the investment. But they turned out only to be falling into debt.

Kampot residents who had invested in Saron’s real estate projects – in some cases taking out bank loans in order to do so – requested that the provincial administration intervene in the matter when the promised construction never began.

During the April 22 public forum, an elderly woman said that she and other members of her family had been cheated by the company and had sold land they owned to make the investment.

“I would like to get my money back. I have nothing to eat now. Please take pity on me,” she said.

After listening to people’s concerns, Thonin stressed that Chea Saron Realty must be held accountable for all of the debt and losses that people had incurred when they invested with him.

He also said that all properties that people had used as collateral with the bank must be returned to them and Saron’s property must be given to the banks in place of it.

“Saron will review the list of people who invested with Chea Saron Realty, but didn’t take out any loans to do so and within month he must determine the total amount owed to each and be prepared to liquidate his assets if necessary in order to pay them back,” Thonin said.

He also said the provincial administration lawyers who are representing the victims will request creditors delay scheduled payments until Saron, his accomplices and his business are held to account for the alleged fraud.