General, Defense Official Clash in Court Over Land Sale to Lawmaker

3 min read
Officers outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on November 26, 2020. (Chorn Chanren/VOD)
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An under-investigation military general and a Defense Ministry official are battling in court over a plot of land in Phnom Penh that the official allegedly acquired through a proxy to sell to a ruling party lawmaker despite it already belonging to the general.

Phoeun Phalla, a Brigade 70 two-star general and oknha placed under investigation in December over alleged involvement in a Preah Sihanouk province land dispute, filed a complaint against Defense Ministry undersecretary Sar Thavy and four others for allegedly selling or instigating the sale of 2 hectares of Phalla’s land in Prek Pnov district’s Samraong commune.

According to the court clerk at a trial hearing earlier this month, the land was sold to CPP lawmaker Lork Kheng, who then realized her border overlapped with Phalla’s property.

Last week, a commune official, fingered in court as processing the land transfer, said the 2 hectares belonged to general Phalla.

But reached on Monday, lawmaker Kheng, a central committee member, said the land would remain hers.

“I’ve occupied the land since I bought it, so there is no problem. I have no losses. Don’t be afraid — the truth is still the truth,” she said. “We followed the law correctly, and that’s enough.”

Three of the five defendants in the case — a guard and two land brokers — testified at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court at a February 5 hearing. The charge of selling others’ property is punishable by six months to three years’ imprisonment under the Land Law.

Pouch Then — described as a guard who watches land for Thavy, the Defense Ministry official — told the court that Thavy had asked him to put the land under Then’s name when they bought it from land brokers Long Dara and Long Ros. Thavy had told him he was too busy with work in the provinces, and Then should also hold onto all the documents, the guard said.

Ros, one of the two brokers on trial, said in court that he had first received the land from Dara before selling it to Then. He said he hadn’t known there was any dispute about who owned the land.

But Dara, the second broker, claimed that Thavy, the ministry official, had instigated the entire transaction, requesting a land title from the municipal land management department and, despite knowing there was a dispute over its ownership, bought the land in his guard’s name.

Dara continued that he had received $7,000, and arranged the land ownership transfer through the commune chief, aided by the fifth defendant, Ouk Pheakdey. Pheakdey, Thavy and Phalla were not in court. According to a land-sale receipt posted to news website KBN, lawmaker Kheng paid $1.3 million to Thavy for the plot.

Last week, commune chief Yin Im would only say that the 2 hectares belonged to general Phalla. Four families had sold it to him, Im said, but said he couldn’t remember when.

Defense Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat said the dispute was a private matter, and would be resolved by the court.

“The ministry has no right to interfere. Whoever does wrong, he will be punished accordingly,” Socheat said.

Thavy hung up when first reached for comment, and later said he didn’t know much about the case and was too busy.

A verdict is due on March 1.

A separate case involving 0.2 more hectares of Phalla’s land is also being tried in court. Phalla’s lawyer Bora declined to comment.

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