‘There Are So Many’: Some Officials Baffled Over Land Grants to Tycoons

3 min read
A view of Bit Traing commune in Preah Sihanouk province’s Prey Nob district on July 23, 2020, in a photograph posted to the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Administration’s Facebook page.

Local officials in disputed areas of Preah Sihanouk province say they know little about a newly disclosed batch of land granted to connected business owners, with a police chief expressing shock over the transfer of a Kbal Chhay water resource to one individual.

Four sub-decrees from July — which were released publicly this month — granted more than 130 hectares of land to six people, including a business associate of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s children.

In Sihanoukville, the government allocated 52 hectares within Muoy commune’s Bei village to Sor Ly and Leang Try, according to a document dated July 28.

Muoy commune police chief Prak Puthea said Ly was a land dealer who owned property in his jurisdiction, but he lives in the city’s Pi commune.

Puthea said he did not know of Try, the other person named in the sub-decree. The document, like other sub-decrees allocating Sihanouk province land, said that the awardees were “obviously occupying the land.”

The area named in Bei village is Kbal Chhay, Puthea said, which contains a reservoir that residents rely upon for clean drinking water. He expressed shock and wondered where the villagers would be able to get their water.

“I can’t believe that the state cut off [this parcel of land] for them because there have been many people applying for it too, so how can they cut off the state land to give them?” he said. “If they cut off 52 hectares, it will finish all the land.”

Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon said the Kbal Chhay area did not fall under his jurisdiction, adding that it may be under the control of the Environment Ministry. He added that he does not have input on all redistributions of land.

“This is government land, and when Samdech [Hun Sen] makes a decision, what is there to do?” he said. Even when the Agriculture Ministry is responsible for some land, he said “sometimes they do not go through us.”

Environment Ministry spokesperson Neth Pheaktra declined to comment, and a Land Management Ministry spokesperson could not be reached.

The government also cut parcels of land from Prey Nob district’s Bit Traing commune, according to documents in the recent release.

One sub-decree dated July 17 granted 76 hectares of land in Bit Traing commune’s Chamnouth Ream village to Koeth Sotheara. According to Fresh News, a man named Koeth Sotheara serves as director of crime prevention and crackdowns for the tax department.

Another order from the same day granted 9 hectares in the same village to three tycoons: Teng Hoeung, Tan Tat and Lav Kang.

Hoeung is on the board of directors for five projects under the Orkide borey chain, along with the premier’s daughters, Hun Mana and Hun Maly, as well as other tycoons.

A previously disclosed sub-decree granted 44 hectares of former forest in the district to Mana, Maly and five other relatives and officials.

Tat — who leads at least two companies with Hoeung as well as his own company, Vimean Morodok Angkor — has been involved in a dispute with 56 families over 84 hectares in the province’s Stung Hav district, according to a report from 2018.

When a reporter tried to call phone numbers for Tat and Hoeung listed on the Commerce Ministry website, both responders immediately hung up.

Kang is a former president of the Preah Sihanouk Chamber of Commerce, and a director for Sokimex Station Sihanoukville branch and Lav Kang Import Export.

When asked about the documents from July, Prey Nob land management bureau chief Khuon Kim Sin said the latest release of sub-decrees was only a small part.

“There are so many,” he said. “I do not know much, and when I am called to measure, I just go to measure.”

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