Pagoda’s Sale of Land in Akrei Khsat Could Be Illegal

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A plot of land sold by Wat Sovann Sakor in Kandal province, on July 12, 2021. (Michael Dickison/VOD)

A pagoda’s sale of unused marshland in Kandal’s Akrei Khsat commune for $400,000 will be investigated as a potentially illegal sale of state land, the provincial governor and Religion Ministry said.

A part of the plot, on a corner housing both the commune police and commune administrative offices, was sold in 2019 for $400,000, Wat Sovann Sakor’s committee chair Chea Pon said on Monday.

The pagoda received $270,000 and Wat Sovann Sakor Primary School was given $130,000 to build new school buildings, Pon said.

But now authorities were looking into the sale, he said.

“The district called us in, and they told us that they had reported it to the province,” Pon said.

Pon said he couldn’t remember which company bought the land.

Commune chief Duch Chan said the commune administration was not involved in the sale. The plot did not have a hard title, but it was widely acknowledged as belonging to the pagoda. The commune had previously asked the pagoda to build the commune office there, he said.

He would not give a direct answer on whether he had concerns about the sale. “This is part of the pagoda’s development, so the money they got is to construct something in the pagoda. People nearby the pagoda also agreed,” he said.

Chan said he didn’t know which company had bought the land.

Religion Ministry spokesperson Seng Sonomy said he needed more information before he could say whether the transaction was illegal.

“A pagoda is public property belonging to the state,” Sonomy said. “I have not received the full work yet whether it is pagoda land or not and whether they sold it or not.”

On Monday, the site, formerly a wetland, could be seen already filled with sand.

Kandal governor Kong Sophorn said on Sunday that the province was looking into the sale. “It is being investigated and I asked district and commune officials to make a report,” Sophorn said.

Vann Sophat, a project coordinator at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said a sale of state land would be illegal.

“Authorities as well as the government must look into the illegal sale,” Sophat said. “If the selling was illegal, it is a criminal offense. Those who conspired to sell it must be punished.”

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