A Prey Veng councilor has been jailed over a defamation and forgery complaint from a Preah Vihear provincial head, a dispute spanning provinces and involving allegedly fabricated land documents.
Cambodia People’s Party provincial councilor Phe Im, 67, last year not only wrote to Interior Minister Sar Kheng to help him assert land ownership in Prey Veng, but also got local newspaper Koh Santepheap to publish an article staking his claims, according to court documents.
In the newspaper article, the Prey Veng councilor claimed he had the backing and assistance of other officials, including the CPP’s Preah Vihear provincial council head Prak Sovann, the documents say.
But in fact he had no land — or the officials’ support, according to the lawsuit.
Im has now been placed in pretrial detention for alleged defamation and falsifying land titles.
“He has no land there,” said Suo Phoung, chief of Kang Meas district’s Krabao commune, speaking of an area known locally as “Trapaing Ko.”
But it was a complicated area, Phoung said, noting powerful interests and a long history of disputes.
“The land belongs to senior people. … The land also belonged to the Forest Administration. There have been many disputes in that area since the old commune chief, and I am not familiar with this land clearly. It is all disputes — land and problems.”
The court documents say Im used a forged document to claim that 24 families had sold him the Trapaing Ko land. This alleged fake document had signatures from three local officials: Veal Smach village chief Chap Eng, former Krabao commune chief Prom Chhuon and Kang Meas deputy district governor Dy Vary.
Furthermore, on October 3, Im had an article published in Koh Santepheap and one of its sister publications, 60 Buzz, saying he had the backing of Preah Vihear’s Sovann and his wife Sar Cheng in securing the land, the court says.
But Sovann’s lawyer filed a complaint against Im on October 15. District authorities interviewed families to check if they had sold their land to Im, and 15 of them said they never sold land to Im, while another three families said they had never heard of him, it says.
Im has been charged with defamation, forgery of a public document, and use of a forged public document. The two forgery charges carry potential punishments of five to 10 years and two to five years in prison, respectively.
Im has been placed in Prey Sar prison’s Correction Center I for pretrial detention.