Agriculture Official Demoted Over Land Sale

The director of Koh Kong’s provincial agriculture department has been removed from his position and demoted after an internal investigation found that he sold a plot of department land for hundreds of thousands of dollars and pocketed the profit—but faces no legal action.

The case surfaced in May when six department officials accused director Meas Sopheap of selling the vacant plot in Khemara Phoumint City, measuring 150 meters by 245 meters, for $320,000, according to Ty Channa, director of the Agriculture Ministry’s human resources department.

“The Agriculture Ministry investigated the case and found that Mr. Sopheap really did sell the state land, as his subordinates had accused,” he said.

Mr. Channa said the investigators interviewed every official employed by the provincial agriculture department in May, most of whom testified that the claims were true, but he claimed that he could not remember when, or to whom, the land was sold.

He said that although Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon was informed about the embezzlement within a week, no action was taken until Tuesday, when Mr. Sopheap was removed as department director and transferred to Phnom Penh to work as deputy head of the ministry’s Agriculture Information and Documentation Center.

Y Men Leang, formerly the chief of the Forestry Administration’s coastal Preah Sihanouk cantonment, had replaced Mr. Sopheap at the helm of the Koh Kong agriculture department, Mr. Channa said.

According to Article 601 of the Criminal Code, embezzlement of state property is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Asked why Mr. Sopheap had faced no legal action, Mr. Channa declined to comment and referred the question to Mr. Sakhon, the minister, who could not be reached.

Contacted on Thursday, Mr. Sopheap denied selling the government’s land for profit.

“My subordinates accused me of selling the provincial agriculture department’s land for $320,000,” he said. “It is not true.”

He confirmed he had been demoted but said he did not know why, adding that the decision was “the right of the minister.”

Provincial governor Bun Leut also claimed Mr. Sopheap was innocent but said he had not been questioned during the ministry’s investigation in May.

“I already investigated and found that the accusations that Mr. Meas Sopheap sold the land were not true, because the land is still registered in the inventory of the provincial agriculture department,” he said, declining to elaborate.

A spokesman for the Agriculture Ministry could not be reached.

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