Victims Press for Compensation, Imprisonment Over Million-Dollar Rural Scam

3 min read
Police officers stand guard at the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, November 16, 2017. (Samrang Pring/Reuters)
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Almost $1 million in compensation remains to be paid out and a perpetrator has yet to see jail time over a Kampong Cham scam that ensnared 180 families, the Supreme Court heard on Monday.

The scam was run by three people under a registered NGO, the Cambodia Happiness Development Organization, the court heard.

Chork Cheang, a representative of the victim families, spoke during the morning hearing that the three scammers were local villagers who carried around with them a document that appeared to be signed by Chea Chanto, the National Bank governor.

Over several years, the NGO, registered in 2014, promised people high interest payments every month if they deposited just a little money with them, and villagers started to believe, Cheang said.

People had sold off their land and borrowed money from banks to invest in the scheme before it finally collapsed, he said.

He asked that the Supreme Court uphold prior guilty verdicts and have outstanding compensation paid out — about $900,000.

The victims’ lawyer said there were three perpetrators, Chorn Chandy, Bun Vai and Vai Map, who had worked together to scam 180 families in three villages in Batheay district. About 130 of those families were still pursuing the case, he said.

Judge Kong Srim bemoaned the villagers falling victim to such a scam. Village officials can sometimes become involved in convincing people to borrow money or in confiscating their land, he said, and urged people to ask around about financial offers and deal only with registered financial institutions. He added that people in rural areas can have limited understanding, and can be swayed by greed.

Cheang, the family representative, said by phone in the afternoon that one of the perpetrators, Vai, had already served two years in prison and was out. Another, Chandy, was arrested in March last year after fleeing to Phnom Penh, and is serving an extended sentence of three years.

The third perpetrator, Map, had yet to go to jail, he said.

“We request the Supreme Court bring him to face justice … and they have not paid compensation yet to the people,” Cheang said.

It was the second scam to hit the area, and people had lost their land or were pulling their children out of high school to work in factories or construction sites and repay their debts, he said.

“If we don’t do that, where can we get the money to keep our land?” he said. As much as 40 percent of victim families had already lost some land due to borrowing money to invest, he said.

“At that time, we were rural people and we had little knowledge,” he said. But many followed the radio, and had heard of the Interior Ministry and names like National Bank governor Chanto.

“So they use the license from the Interior Ministry and [supposed signature from] the National Bank. … They said what they were doing was improving people’s lives.”

“They said that if we keep our land title at home, it is useless and sometimes it could get eaten by a rat and people believe it. So they brought their land titles to the bank to get money to invest with them.”

He said he had lost $100,000 himself.

A similar scam in the area involved another NGO called WBO, which had also scammed about 200 families for $1 million, he said.

Yorng Khorn, one of WBO’s victims, said Monday afternoon that she had sold her cows and had her daughter work one year in a factory to get her land title back from microfinance after repaying her $6,000 debt. There had been no compensation in that case either, she said.

“They have not paid a single riel,” Khorn said. “No one cared.”

A Supreme Court decision on the Cambodia Happiness Development Organization case is expected on October 19.

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