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Former undersecretary of state charged over 1,000-hectare grab

Buth Reaksmey Kongkea / Khmer Times Share:
Seng Sovannara, seated, speaks to a plainclothes police officer at the court premises. Kampuchea Thmey

Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Saturday charged and jailed a former undersecretary of state for allegedly grabbing about 1,000 hectares of state land in Mondulkiri province.

Court spokesman Kuch Kimlong identified him as Seng Sovannara, 53, a former Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of  Justice living in Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district.

However he also has a house and farms in Mondukiri province’s Koh Nhek district.

Mr Kimlong said Sovannara was slapped with four charges: “fraud with aggravating circumstances; intimidation in order to prevent the filing of a complaint; and authorised holding of a weapon” under Articles 377, 380, 490 and 527 of the Criminal Code and with “grabbing the state’s public property” under Article 62 of the law on Environmental Protection and Natural Resource Management.

If convicted, Sovannara faces up to five years in prison.

Mr Kimlong said Sovannara was arrested on Friday and has been sent by Investigating  Judge Song Sovannarith to prison pending trial.

Major Keo Vichetr, a police officer with the Interior Ministry’s Internal Security Department, said that before his arrest, Sovannara owned rubber plantations in Koh Nhek district’s O-Buon Leu commune.

He said according to police investigation, Sovannara, in 2017, grabbed about 1,000 hectares of protected forest land in the province’s Wildlife Sanctuaries and took ownership  without  permission from  relevant authorities in the province.

Maj Vichetr said that last year he sold the land to a businessman in Phnom Penh.

He said the victim deposited an amount of money for the accused to secure new land ownership documents for him.

“But after he received the money from the victim he did not provide the documents for the land transaction to the victim as promised,” Maj Vichetr said. “The relevant Provincial authorities did not process the documents because the land belonged to the state.”

He said the victim demanded his money back but Sovannara refused.

Maj Vichetr said when the victim threatened to sue him, he in turn threatened to kill the victim who finally filed a complaint at Phnom Penh Municipal Court last month.

He said Sovannara was arrested on Friday by police from the Internal Security Department in Ministry of Interior at his home, in Phnom Penh, following the court’s warrant of arrest.

Maj Vichetr added that after his arrest, police seized a pistol along with an amount of bullets from him. The accused did not have a licence or other related documents permitting him to have the pistol.

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