Candlelight Adviser Faces Growing Legal Hassles Over Tonle Bassac Land

3 min read
Kong Korm pictured on his Facebook page on December 11, 2022.
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Senior opposition official Kong Korm has been slapped with another lawsuit claiming $1 million in damages by the Foreign Ministry for registering ministry land as personally owned, an issue first raised by the prime minister in a tirade on Monday.

Hun Sen accused Korm, who is an adviser to the Candlelight Party, of living on ministry land, to which Korm rebutted on Wednesday that Hun Sen had allowed him to live there and that he had already registered the land with the government.

The land is in Phnom Penh’s Tonle Bassac commune, near the Russian Embassy. The land also houses the headquarters of the Khmer Will Party, where Korm is an honorary president.

The land dispute took a new turn on Thursday when Hun Sen directed the Anti-Corruption Unit to investigate Korm for alleged forgery. The Foreign Ministry compounded Korm’s legal hassles by separately suing him for $1 million for registering the land under a personal land title.

The ministry complaint, filed by Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, asks the court to nullify the land title issued to Korm in 2015 because the ministry owned the land. It also asks for the defendants to pay $1 million in damages and any court costs. The complaint names both Korm and his wife, Siek Oy, as defendants.

The complaint alleges that Korm was living on the land during the 1980s — when he was foreign minister — and later asked Nuch Thorn, who was a deputy minister at another ministry, to approve a soft title. It was based on this “deception” that Korm was able to get a hard title in 2015, the complaint alleges.

The complaint alleges Korm violated Article 64 of the 1992 Land Law, articles 18 and 38 of the 2001 Land Law and articles 162 and 178 of the Code of Civil Procedures.

The Foreign Ministry also asked the court, in a separate motion, to issue an injunction to prevent Korm from selling, renting or doing anything with the land, which measures around 0.5 hectares.

Hun Sen chimed in on Thursday and directed the Anti-Corruption Unit to investigate Korm for alleged forgery and instructed him to give back the land within a month if he wanted to avoid potential legal consequences.

“To avoid consequences that come from the complaint and other legal means that the government will take in demanding the house and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ land,” he said in a Facebook post.

A woman who picked up a phone number for Korm said he was busy. A man refused to open the gate to the disputed land and said Korm had already spoken to the media.

However, government-friendly Fresh News published two letters Thursday afternoon: one from Korm and another from his son Kong Monika, who is the head of the Khmer Will Party.

Korm said he wanted to discuss a separate complaint filed by the Cambodian People’s Party’s Tbong Khmum committee alleging incitement and the land dispute in Phnom Penh. Monika said he was seeking Hun Sen’s advice on the political atmosphere and the “positive process” of Cambodia’s multiparty democracy.

Municipal court spokesperson Y Rin said he was busy in a meeting and referred questions to another spokesperson, Suos Vithyearandy, who could not be reached for comment as of Thursday evening.

ACU spokesperson Soy Chanvicheth said a working group had been created to investigate the Korm case, including a review of all documents. “Now we are working. We started already,” he said.

He said the process would require cooperation from relevant bodies and Korm in order to complete the investigation.

Ny Sokha, the head of human rights group Adhoc, said it was common for people to live on land given by the state after the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge from Phnom Penh in 1979. There were likely many officials in a similar situation to Korm’s, Sokha added.

“So I think it is complicated, and I see it is more politically motivated than legal,” he said. “I think our politicians should think more about the national interest rather than personal conflicts or group conflicts.”

Additional reporting by Nhim Sokhorn

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