Villager representatives questioned in land dispute case4 min read

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Villager representatives stand outside the Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court on September 8 ahead of their questioning in a case they filed over a long-running land dispute. Supplied
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The Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court on September 8 questioned two plaintiffs representing a group of families who filed a lawsuit against four officials and 13 local businessmen alleging that they engaged in bribery and forged documents to claim ownership of 100 hectares of land in a long-running conflict. 

The same family representatives also filed a separate complaint on August 31 at the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) against the three local officials they accuse of bribing others and taking bribes in exchange for creating land titles at the request of businessman Tuy Vanny.

Teng Samai, the Banteay Meanchey deputy prosecutor in charge of the case, said he had finished questioning the plaintiffs but had yet to recommend any charges.

“We have not yet decided to carry out the charging because it is still under investigation, and we are reviewing the evidence,” he said, adding that the court still needs to summon the accused and witnesses according to procedure.

The 51 families who are plaintiffs in the case have been embroiled in a dispute with Vanny over 113 hectares in Poipet City’s Nimit commune since 2001. They say that in 2015, Vanny procured land titles for 66 hectares which he claimed to have bought from 14 of the families, but villagers allege he had colluded with local authorities to create the titles to grab the farmland in Soriya village.

But Lunh, 34, who was one of two representatives of the 51 families questioned at the court on September 8, said the prosecutor had asked him for details on the background of the long-running conflict, specifically inquiring about the alleged forged documents. 

“I asked the court to find justice for me and the other families who are the owners of that land,” he said. 

When asked for details on how he had answered the prosecutor’s questions about the falsified documents, Lunh referred questions to his lawyer, who could not be reached for comment.

In the complaint filed to the Banteay Meanchey court, a copy of which was obtained August 25, Vanny and 12 of his colleagues are accused of masterminding the land grab by forging documents and bribing cadastral officials into registering land. It accuses four former local officials of conspiracy: former Nimit Commune Chief Pal Setha, former Poipet City Governor Ngor Meng Chroun, who is now deputy provincial governor, Poipet City Land Management, Urban Planning, and Construction Director Prak Poly, who now works at the ministry, and former Provincial Land Management Director Ly Sari, who is also a deputy provincial governor. 

As for the ACU complaint, Lunh said he wanted the officials to be held accountable for taking bribes to produce the land titles, and said he and the other representative for the 51 families were questioned by the anti-graft body on September 1.

“I sued those officials and Tuy Vanny and his group with bribery and accepting bribes, except for [deputy governor] Ly Sari,” he said, adding that the fake land titles had been issued by Poly.

On September 1, the ACU sent a letter summoning Poipet City Governor Keat Hul to verify details of the dispute over 113 hectares.

The letter asked the city governor to provide all relevant documents regarding the dispute, including geographic documents that villagers say shows the land belongs to them and is part of O’Russei village.

“Is O’Russei village really the current Sorya village?” is one question that the ACU is seeking clarity on, according to the letter.

Vanny claims that the land he bought from the 14 families was located in Poipet commune’s O’Russei village, but in 2015, the Nimit commune chief and Sorya village chief had insisted the land was located in their territory.

A sub-decree regarding the creation of Phsar Kandal market in Poipet City dated May 2011 says that O’Russei village is located in Phsar Kandal commune, meaning the village had not changed location or become part of the Sorya village administrative area, it said.

ACU Chairman Om Yentieng declined to comment, saying he was busy with work.

Poipet City Governor Hul confirmed that he had already provided all necessary documents to the ACU and declined to comment further.

Provincial Deputy Governor Ngor Meng Chroun denied that he had taken bribes as the 51 families had alleged.

“The people who issued the land titles are cadastral officials, not authorities,” he said.

“I am not involved with that case because the land certificate showing ownership for the 14 families and 51 families were not under my [administrative scope],” Meng Chroun said, adding that the land certificates were created 10 years before he became city governor.

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