Oknha Sok Kong received 11,177 hectares of land inside Preah Monivong Bokor National Park via an August 4, 2022 sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, published in the Council of Ministers’ Royal Gazette last week.
Combined with earlier known land grants, Sok Kong has since 2011 received at least 42,000 hectares inside the Preah Monivong Bokor National Park, designated as a protected area since 1993.
The latest land grant was classified as a “sustainable use zone” for the tycoon’s Sokha Hotel Company. In February, CamboJA reported the tycoon’s Thansur Sokha hotel property in Bokor has been a site of human trafficking, forced confinement and transnational scam operations since 2018.
“Allow Sokha Hotel Company to develop the land in accordance with the land leased for development project at Preah Monivong National Park Bokor dated May 18, 2007 by conserving the area rich in biodiversity and delicate ecosystem, rain catchment, animal corridors,” read the sub-decree.
Sok Kong originally received a 99-year lease to develop Bokor mountain in 2007. He then received 18,987 hectares in 2011 and 12,016 hectares in 2020 inside Bokor.
The tycoon, who made his fortune in petrol and built up an entertainment and hospitality empire under the conglomerate Sokimex, has trumpeted plans to transform Bokor mountain into a full-scale city in the coming decade.
Sokha Hotel Company spokespeople declined to comment. Kampot provincial administration spokesperson Vit Vathana could not be reached for comment.
The latest Royal Gazette announcements included other land giveaways to the well-connected, such as 649 hectares inside Kampong Chhnang’s Aural Wildlife Sanctuary awarded by the Prime Minister to One Fraternity Co., Ltd in a July 26, 2022 sub-decree. The company, a marketing firm hawking Vital Premium Water and Mie Chiet instant noodles, also received more than 200 hectares inside Kirirom National Park last June.
One Fraternity is co-directed by Im Paulika, wife of Economy and Finance Minister Aun Pornmoniroth, and Choeung Sokuntheavy, whose parents are Pheapimex chairwoman Choeung Sopheap and ruling CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin.
Paulika and Sokuntheavy have tied their families closely together. Sokuntheavy’s daughter Lau Jia Zhen is engaged to Aun Pornminreach, son of Finance Minister Aun Pornmoniroth and his wife Im Paulika, RFA reported in 2021.
Another area subject to further land giveaways included Boeng Tamok, a Phnom Penh lake community being rapidly filled in for development of gated borey communities. On August 23 last year, Hun Sen awarded 8.4 hectares to a woman named Tang Channythita and, around one kilometer away, 10.9 hectares to Sam Piseth and Sim Savichear.
The following day, Hun Sen signed another sub-decree awarding 3.7 hectares in Boeng Tamok to Triv Kongheng, chairman of LBN Food Concepts Group, a subsidiary of Oknha Lim Bunna’s LBN Group. Bunna was named an advisor to Hun Sen last year.
One Fraternity and LBN Food Concept Group could not be reached for comment by phone or email.
The Royal Gazette also noted that on July 22, 2022, 9.54 hectares of land in Preah Sihanouk’s Stung Hav district was given to Pen Sophal and Chea Panha.
Cambodia Youth Network research and advocacy manager Heng Kimhong said he worries that major land grants across areas inside wildlife sanctuaries, such as Bokor, are not benefiting local communities.
“I think the government should make the information transparent so that the people know why and what is needed to develop in that area,” Kimhong said. “As well as ensuring that development in the area does not affect the common interests of the nation.”
Environment Ministry spokesperson Neth Pheaktra told CamboJA that environmental activists concerned with land grants inside protected national parks should take time to more deeply understand social development issues and the needs of Cambodia.
“The government has carefully considered making conservation and development go hand in hand for the benefit of the nation and the people of Cambodia,” he said.