A family’s protracted legal battle to prevent their Pailin City property from being repossessed by ANZ Royal bank as collateral for a tycoon’s loan ended in a messy eviction on Thursday, despite their efforts to keep police at bay by setting alight a barrier of tires around their property.
About 50 police and military police arrived at the Pailin commune residence on Thursday morning, and after a fire truck was brought in to extinguish the flaming obstacles, authorities evicted the family of 10 and carted away everything not nailed down.
It was a fiery conclusion to legal battle that began six years ago, after Chea Chhen, 55, signed as guarantor for businessman Sok Rathorn on a loan of nearly $1 million from the Battambang branch of ANZ Royal bank, according to provincial authorities and the family’s lawyer.
Pailin Provincial Court chief prosecutor, Chum Sen Sothea, who led the team deployed to seize the property, said the eviction was the final result after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of ANZ in December last year.
In 2010, Mr. Chhen signed as a guarantor for Mr. Rathorn’s loan, though his wife Long Sidoeun, 42, claimed her husband did not know what he was signing and why, saying they trusted Mr. Rathorn due to his position and because he and his father were “close friends with the family.”
Mr. Rathorn’s father, a CPP official, met Mr. Chhen during government negotiations with the Khmer Rouge in Pailin 20 years ago, when Mr. Chhen was a Khmer Rouge soldier.
“We decided to give our land titles for him to borrow for a business because we trusted him. He is an oknha,” Ms. Sidoeun said.
The prestigious title of “oknha” is bestowed on members of the political and social elite who donate at least $100,000 to the government.
Ms. Sidoeun added that Mr. Rathorn had earlier helped the family obtain official land titles for their property.
“His family also helped us to run papers and make land titles for us without making us pay the fee…. We did not know they would take our land title to keep at the bank and cheat us like that.”
After Mr. Rathorn defaulted on his loan payments, the bank came knocking in 2013, and the couple subsequently filed a complaint with Battambang Provincial Court.
Initially, the Battambang Provincial Court ruled in favor of Ms. Sidoeun and Mr. Chhen, awarding them their titles and 40 million riel (about $10,000) compensation in July 2014.
The Court of Appeal then reversed the verdict and ruled in favor of ANZ. The recent Supreme Court decision upheld that finding.
Mr. Rathorn is currently serving one year in PJ Prison for unrelated charges of fraud after being found guilty in June last year of defrauding Meas Sopheary, the daughter of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Deputy Commander in Chief Meas Sophea, out of $2.5 million.
ANZ Royal CEO Grant Knuckey said the couple’s claims of ignorance regarding their obligation as guarantors had been repeatedly disproven in court.
“Whilst we do not comment in detail on individual cases, due process has been followed and the guarantor has been provided with many opportunities over a period of 3 years to settle the loans,” Mr. Knuckey said in an email.
“The court’s decision included a full review of the allegation that is inferred in your email below. An eviction is a last resort after all other avenues have been exhausted,” he continued, in response to a query about whether the family had been adequately informed of their legal responsibilities when signing the agreement.
Despite this, the couple said on Thursday that they were unsure where they would sleep that night after having been forced off their property of 30 years.
“They confiscated everything that we have. Where will we go?” asked Ms. Sidoeun.
Mr. Sen Sothea, the provincial prosecutor, said the family’s personal effects would be returned at some point in the future.
(Additional reporting by Taylor O’Connell)