Boeng Kak Families Ask ACU to Probe Senator’s Land Sale

Residents of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak neighborhood lodged a formal complaint with the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) on Monday, asking it to investigate 12 current and former government officials and Senator Lao Meng Khin over the senator’s plans to sell land they say was stolen from them.

Their complaint also asks the ACU to investigate the construction of a military police base in their midst, on land they say was set aside exclusively for the neighborhood’s families by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Residents of Phnom Penh's Boeng Kak neighborhood protest Monday in front of the headquarters of the Anti-Corruption Unit. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Residents of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak neighborhood protest Monday in front of the headquarters of the Anti-Corruption Unit. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

In an announcement to the Singapore bourse late last month, the HLH Group said its subsidiary, D’Lotus Development, had agreed to buy 1.35 hectares of land from Mr. Meng Khin’s Shukaku Inc., which rights groups and Boeng Kak residents accuse of illegally evicting some 3,000 families from their homes.

Phnom Penh City Hall granted Shukaku a 99-year lease to 133 hectares of land in the Boeng Kak neighborhood in 2007, and rights groups say the terms of the lease do not allow it to sell to a third party. In 2011, Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a sub-decree cutting 12.44 hectares out of the project area so that about 650 families could keep their homes.

“If it [Shukaku] sells the land the government leased it to develop, it has no right,” said Tep Vanny, one of about 30 Boeng Kak residents who went to the ACU to deliver their complaint. “And if they sell land inside the 12.44 hectares…it has no right because it violates the sub-decree.”

The 12 people listed in the complaint include Mr. Meng Khin, Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong, former Governor Kep Chuktema, and other municipal, district and commune officials.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said the residents were free to file their complaint, but insisted that Shukaku’s deal with D’Lotus was legal.

“The company has the right to select any private partner to develop the location,” he said, although he declined to elaborate on how the company could sell land it was leasing.

He said he did not know exactly what piece of land Shukaku was selling, but insisted it was not inside the 12.44 hectares set aside for families.

The spokesman also defended the city’s decision to build a new headquarters for the Daun Penh district military police in Boeng Kak, and said the city is planning to build a police base right beside it.

“We will build the office for the joint forces—the police next to the military police office,” he said.

The base is being built steps away from the home of Ms. Vanny and some of Cambodia’s other most high-profile anti-eviction activists, who have been attacked by police during peaceful protests, arrested and convicted for their activism.

Mr. Dimanche denied that the new police and military police bases were meant to intimidate the activists and said the site was chosen strictly to provide the neighborhood more security against common criminals.

Construction of the building’s foundations has already begun. In their complaint, the residents ask for construction to halt until negotiations are finished between City Hall and about 40 families still hoping to secure land titles in the area.

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