Protected areas in Kirirom National Park and the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary are being privatized for companies run by family members of notorious tycoon Choeung Sopheap as well as the wife of the country’s finance minister.
Sopheap, whose husband is ruling-party Senator Lau Meng Khin, has been behind massive logging concessions around the country and the infamous violent evictions around Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake, which has now been completely filled in.
The most recent batch of published government sub-decrees, all signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen in July, include two sustainability zones in Kampong Speu’s Kirirom and Mondulkiri’s Keo Seima transferred to two private companies.
Both companies are linked to Sopheap’s family.
One sub-decree, signed on July 19, demarcated 70 hectares within the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary in Sen Monorom city’s Romnea commune for reclassification from public property to private land, to be developed by One Prosperity for ecotourism investment.
According to the Commerce Ministry’s business registry, One Prosperity is directed by Im Paulika, the wife of Finance Minister Aun Pornmoniroth.
The other four directors are Lau Sok Huy, Choeung Theankeat, Choeung Theanseng and Choeung Sokuntheavy. Choeung Sokuntheavy is the daughter of Pheapimex CEO Sopheap, who is also known as Yeay Phu. Theanseng is Sopheap’s son.
Theanseng and Theankeat are the directors of another company that received 85.72 hectares of the Kirirom park in Phnom Sruoch district’s Treng Trayeong commune in the latest batch of sub-decrees.
The document, signed July 15, transferred the land to Den-Dey Eco-Tour for ecotourism development.
Sokuntheavy separately received a plot of 222 hectares in Kirirom through her company One More in the previous batch of sub-decrees.
A man who answered a call to a listed number for Theankeat denied it was him, while Theanseng could not be reached. A former number for Finance Minister Pornmoniroth was answered by a woman. Two Commerce Ministry-listed numbers for Paulika were answered by people who said they weren’t her.
The governors of Kampong Speu and Mondulkiri, Vei Samnang and Thong Savun, declined to comment, saying they had not received the documents yet.
A third sub-decree also transferred 292.02 hectares of land in Siem Reap’s Banteay Srei district to two private individuals, Chan Sothy and Met Tola, whose identities could not be immediately confirmed. The area formerly classified as forest cover would be turned into state-private land, the decree said.
Banteay Srei district governor Rin Lot said he did not know about the land as he had only taken office this month.
A plot on Phnom Penh’s fast-disappearing Boeng Tamok was also part of the sub-decrees.
Am Sam Ath, spokesman for local rights group Licadho, said state land had been reserved for the public benefit, but now large tracts of it were being privatized.
“Civil society does not oppose development, but it must prioritize the interests of the people. Do not let others see that citizens are suffering from landlessness due to abuse by powerful companies, and yet the state still provides land to companies or individuals,” Sam Ath said.