Nou Ratha, a Cambodian man who previously worked in South Korea, claims to have lost $235,500 to Brilliant City World Co Ltd, owned by former Oknha Leng Channa, who has been stripped of the honorific after widespread allegations of fraud.  

Ratha and several other victims have expressed their pleasure at the news that Prime Minister Hun Manet has assigned Ky Tech, the head of the government’s legal team, to investigate the case. Thanks to Manet’s intervention, they are hopeful that they will receive some compensation.

“I was delighted when I heard about the prime minister’s decision. I am pleased he is paying close attention to the case,” said Ratha.

“I do not know if the resolution process will be fast or slow. It is a complicated case, because the company systematically defrauded many people out of a large amount of money,” added the 31-year-old.

The prime minister issued a May 13 letter authorising Ky Tech, Senior Minister in charge of special missions and head of the government’s legal team, to begin the process of investigating the case and assigning government lawyers to represent the victims until the case is concluded.

“In response to the victims asking for intervention from me in the case project of former Oknha Leng Chhanna, I have authorised Ky Tech, head of the government’s legal team, to represent them in all cases being handled by the courts, said Manet in the letter, which was made public on May 15.

According to the prime minister, after seeing the case on social media in February, assigned Minister of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction Say Samal and Siem Reap provincial governor Prak Sophorn and his legal team to investigate the case.

Samal attempted to negotiate with the company and find a solution that was acceptable to the people, but was unable to arrive at an acceptable deal.

In addition, several other authorities launched their own investigations, discovering that the Brilliant City World case was markedly different from other real estate ventures that collapsed due to market declines. In contrast, they determined that Channa’s project appeared to be a Ponzi scheme.

A Ponzi scheme is a type of fraud in which investors are promised large profits at little or no risk. The money is not invested. Rather, the scam artist concentrates on attracting more investors. A growing number of victims is needed to pay out the supposed profits being distributed to earlier investors.

In accordance with the outcome of the investigations, the prime minister ordered police to take action against Channa. She was arrested in March.

Manet also requested that King Norodom Sihamoni strip her of the honorific title of Oknha on March 13. One day later, acting head of state Say Chhum, president of the Senate at the time, terminated it with a royal decree. 

In April, the court froze 183 bank accounts and seized some of the company’s assets, while issuing summonses to 24 individuals. They were ordered to appear before the court for questioning by May 17.

Ratha claimed that as many as 12,100 people were cheated out of almost $300 million. Most of them are in Cambodia, while others were Cambodians working in South Korea, Japan or Malaysia. 

Of the $235,000 he deposited with the company, he had borrowed over $100,000 from several local banks. He is now having difficulties repaying the loans.

“Now I am in hefty debt with many banks because I have no ability to pay. I am facing the seizure of property, including my home,” he said.

“I was paid interest on my deposit at the beginning, but from July 2023, the company stopped paying me, and that was when I realised I had been defrauded,” he added.

Other members of his family, including his mother, also deposited large amounts with the company, and are currently paying more than $5,000 a month to repay bank loans taken out for the purpose.

Ratha began investing in the project in December 2019, while he was working at an ice factory in South Korea. He joined the project after one of his friends, who trusted the company, introduced it to him. He never thought any problems would occur. 

He has since filed complaints with the provincial court, seeking compensation. 

“I want to get the money back. Earlier, we demanded that Channa meet with us and find a solution, because we had no money to pay back the bank loans. She turned a blind eye, and acted like nothing had happened,” he said.

“She continued to post her lavish lifestyle online and went live to sell additional products, while we were all under pressure. We also borrowed money from other people to repay the banks. I have no money now and I am unemployed,” he added.

A 41-year-old man, who asked not to be named, claimed that he took out a $25,000 loan from a bank and deposited $17,700 with the project in August 2022, with the promise of a four per cent return each month.

He expected that he would get his money back after the prime minister assigned his legal team to investigate the case.

The prime minister explained that although the case is now in the hands of the courts, the government would keep an eye on it. He urged the authorities involved to work with the courts to determine an appropriate legal outcome.

Manet instructed his legal team to pay close attention to the case and ensure that all legal measures are firmly applied.

Siem Reap provincial court spokesman Yin Srang said the court would cooperate with the victims and the prime minister’s legal team to solve the case “without hesitation”.

“Our investigating judges are working hard on the case. We are burning the candle at both ends to get this issue resolved,” he added, noting that the court froze 183 of the company’s bank accounts in April. He could not specify the total amount of money that was seized.

Srang noted that more and more victims are continuing to file complaints to the court, so the total number of victims remained unclear. He explained that some cases are in the hands of prosecutors and some of judges, and said that at least six people have been placed in pre-trial detention.

In March, The Siem Reap provincial court charged Channa, 36, director of the company and her two deputy directors Chan Khim, 30, and Phon Samean, 31, with fraud with aggravating circumstances, issuing empty cheques and money laundering. Several of their alleged accomplices were also ordered to appear for questioning, then charged and detained at the provincial court. 

Ratha claimed that only three of the company’s 25 management team members have been placed in detention as of May 15.