Conviction Against ‘Grandma Crocodile’ Upheld

The Court of Appeal on Tuesday upheld a 2012 conviction of encroaching on public land, but significantly reduced the sentence, against businesswoman Chhin Sokountheary for illegally filling in part of a Phnom Penh lake.

Ms. Sokountheary—also known as Grandma Crocodile for the crocodile farm she owns—was sentenced in absentia in 2012 to four and a half years in jail and ordered to pay 30 million riel in fines and 60 million riel in compensation, about $7,500 and $15,000, respectively.

She has always denied the charge of encroachment, claiming that then-Phnom Penh governor Kep Chuktema stole her land with the intent of selling it to sugar magnate Ly Yong Phat.

On Tuesday, Judge Nguon Im upheld the verdict against Ms. Sokountheary, who remains at large, but slashed the sentence.

“The Court of Appeal has decided to uphold the Phnom Penh Court decision but sentences Ms. Sokountheary to two years in jail,” he said.

He also reduced the size of the fine to 15 million riel and did away with the compensation in its entirety. The judge said he changed the sentence on the basis of the information provided during and since last month’s Appeal Court hearing but did not elaborate.

Yim Sary, Mr. Chuktema’s lawyer, said he was satisfied with the verdict and the new sentence but declined further comment.

But Ms. Sokountheary’s lawyer, Sok Sam Oeun, said the Court of Appeal decision was still unjust, insisting that his client had legal standing on the disputed land and had been waiting for her title application to go through since 2011.

“Chhin Sokountheary has an official letter proving she bought the land from the villagers in the area, stamped by local authorities, and she has paid tax on the land,” he said.

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