The Phnom Penh municipal police on August 8 referred Hy Kimhong, the owner of realty firm Piphup Deimeas Investment Co Ltd – along with 13 of his associates – to court following a brawl involving the men and protesting land buyers.

The 14 men are facing several serious charges including “fraud, aggravated assault, incitement to commit acts against public officials and money laundering”, according to police spokesman San Sok Seiha.

The arrest, ordered by the court and carried out on August 7, took place at the firm’s office in Ponsaing commune of the capital’s Prek Pnov district.

According to a social media post by Seng Hann, one of the protesters, dozens of people who had bought land from the “investment group” had been protesting outside the office since the morning of August 7. They were demanding a solution to an alleged scam involving the purchase of the firm’s land in exchange for “monthly interests” on top of the property. They claimed that the owner had failed to fulfil his promises of interest payments to buyers.

They sought a meeting with Kimhong to address the issue, but to no avail. In response, some of the angry protesters set tyres on fire, hoping to gain the attention of the businessman.

With no immediate solution in sight, the protesters attempted to storm the office. But Kimhong’s associates then intervened, leading to further clashes that even resulted in injuries to several of the police officers who were present.

Faced with escalating tensions, the authorities resorted to firing several bullets into the air to regain control of the situation.

The same source provided images of numerous individuals who visited the Phnom Penh Municipal Police to register their complaints and request assistance reclaiming their funds. The police instructed them to direct their complaints to the municipal court, situated at the “Court of Justice” building in Chroy Changvar district and commune.

Approximately 500 victims of the alleged scam sought to register their complaints with the court, police said.

Among those affected was Bun Mak, a 54-year-old resident of Kampong Speu province. She recounted becoming entangled in a land acquisition venture with the firm. Having invested $20,000 to acquire a parcel of land, she hoped to earn monthly interest of $600 from her investment.

According to her contract, the company specified a 24-month period within which customers would receive interest payments. The agreement also outlined a provision whereby it would buy back the land at the original price and renew the contract.

However, the company failed to fulfil its commitments. Interest payments were not provided, and the firm consistently made “false” assurances. As time passed and the promises proved empty, the victims’ trust was eroded. Eventually, they resorted to protesting and demanding the repayment of their principal investment.

“He has been making promises since March, but only a week later, he failed to fulfil them. We have received nothing from him since April,” said Mak.

“We are protesting because the banks that we borrowed our investment capital are demanding repayments. Meanwhile, the company keeps giving excuses, leaving us with no means to repay the bank,” she added.

Phin Oun, a 50-year-old from Kampong Cham province, shared that she suffered a loss of $23,000 through an investment that was tied to the realty firm.

She explained that her decision to deposit money with the company was influenced by the persuasive techniques of its marketers. They convinced her to purchase a plot of land, which was supposedly valued at $15,000, and would yield monthly interest payments of $450. Encouraged by their promises, she opted to invest in one and a half land lots.

Initially, she received interest payments for several months. However, in March the company encountered difficulties and began delaying the release of customers’ funds. By April, the interest payments ceased altogether. This prolonged delay in honouring their commitments led to the protests.

“The company assured us of a 24-month plan, and we were already benefiting from it. They even stated that we could sell the land back to them and recover our principal,” she said.

“I borrowed money from the bank to invest, as it sounded like a profitable investment. Unfortunately, during the last 4 months, I stopped receiving any payments. Now, I find myself without the funds to repay the bank,” she added.