Document Suggests State Land Sale to Tycoon at Discount Price

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A map of 334 hectares in Mondulkiri province granted to Choeung Thean Seng, the son of Pheapimex tycoon Choeng Sopheap, on March 24, 2022. (Danielle Keeton-Olsen/VOD)
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Hundreds of hectares in Mondulkiri were sold to a major tycoon’s family for as low as 600 riel per square meter, a government document suggests, and is facing protests from existing residents.

An apparent Council of Ministers document seen by VOD transfers 334 hectares in Mondulkiri’s Sen Monorom city and O’Reang district to Choeung Thean Seng, the son of Pheapimex tycoon Choeung Sopheap. Sopheap is married to Senator Lao Meng Khin.

The document is labeled a “declaration,” and predates a government sub-decree issued a day later in March and since released publicly.

The declaration contains key details missing in the sub-decree: notably the state land’s sale price during privatization.

Some 79 hectares in Sen Monorom city’s Romnea commune was sold for $2,000 per hectare — or $0.2 per square meter, according to the document. Additionally, 255 hectares in O’Reang’s Sen Monorom commune was sold for $1,500 per hectare, or $0.15 per square meter, about 600 riel, the document says.

Thousands of hectares of state land across the country — including wildlife sanctuaries and protected forests — have been privatized in the past few years for tycoons, politicians’ families and others, with sub-decrees made public but the government’s deals with the recipients largely undisclosed.

The deal Thean Seng received compares to $2 per square meter for one plot in Romnea listed online.

Since the land was transferred in March, it has become the site of local unrest. About 60 families protested outside the Sen Monorom commune hall on October 26, accusing authorities of selling their farmland to a rich man.

Commune chief Thvan Trel said the residents had submitted a complaint after border posts were installed around areas they were cultivating.

“I do not dare to speak because I do not know clearly about it, but it is clear that the government has given the land to this okhna,” Trel said.

Deputy provincial governor Cheak Mengheang said the land price document was a matter for higher levels of government.

Government spokesperson Phay Siphan said he did not know about the particular case, but explained that declaration documents typically list decisions already approved by the prime minister.

Thean Seng also received around 100 hectares on Phnom Penh’s controversial Boeng Tamok lake, and he has also been involved in a land dispute around the city’s Boeng Tompun lake. Both lakes are being filled with sand and developed.

A man who answered a phone number for Thean Seng’s business listed with the Commerce Ministry said reporters had reached the wrong person, before asking who they were trying to reach.

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