The Supreme Court on Thursday denied bail to a land broker who claimed he wasn’t aware he was falsifying documents, after he was arrested alongside seven others in relation to land conflicts in Preah Sihanouk’s Bit Traing commune.
He and seven other people had been charged by the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court in October for association with criminals to commit felonies, three different charges related to forging documents under the Criminal Code, and for clearing forest land under the forestry law.
Prey Nob district has been known as a hotbed of land disputes, after a shooting in 2020 led to an investigation of Phoeun Phalla, the deputy chief of the elite military unit Brigade 70. Late last year, a woman said she was slapped with excessive defamation charges by bodyguards for Hun Sen’s nephew Hun Chea over her dispute with the guards over Bit Traing commune land.
According to court documents, police put out a warrant in 2020 for crimes that Kim Tong, a land broker, allegedly committed the year before. He was later arrested in 2021. The seven others arrested include local officials and other brokers: former Prey Nop district deputy governor Nup Phean; land broker Ros Bithol; former Bit Traing CNRP commune chief Lak Keang; land broker Vet Veth; Sun news outlet reporter Keo Veasna; and two other people whose roles were not defined, Pheng Sophal and Duong Sibunthol.
Deputy prosecutor Chhoun Chantha argued during the hearing that Kim Tong should be released on bail, as he had nothing to do with the seven other people.
Puth Theavy, the defendant’s lawyer, said Kim Tong was only brokering a land deal, and was following procedures by asking permission from Environment Ministry officials, the provincial government as well as Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Theavy argued that Kim Tong believed there were no land titles for an unspecified area that was under dispute, but instead there was a soldier named Suong Bun Cheng who was allegedly working to falsify land titles in the commune.
“My client did not know about the faking of documents,” he said.
Keang, the CNRP commune chief, was arrested over alleged land encroachment in late September. His wife told VOD at the time,” “He stayed home and grew coconuts and other plants. … I am speechless and this is too far.”