The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday acquitted a land broker of allegedly defrauding a businessman out of $2.5 million over a 9,000-hectare economic land concession (ELC) in Mondolkiri province that was eventually revoked by the government.
Eab Pay, the owner of the Kasekam Khmer Angkor agriculture company, claimed to have paid the broker, Suon Mean, the money to purchase the land for him so that he could turn it into a rubber plantation. He accused Mr. Mean, who was charged in May, of preventing him from subsequently developing the site because the broker failed to submit the necessary documents to the government.
On Friday, Presiding Judge Kor Vandy announced that Mr. Mean was not guilty.
“The court acquits Suon Mean, 47, of the charge of fraud committed in Phnom Penh during 2011 to 2014,” Judge Vandy said, reading from the verdict.
He did not explain the decision in court and declined to comment when contacted later.
Neither Mr. Pay nor Mr. Mean could be reached Friday, and lawyers for both men declined to comment.
During the trial earlier this month, Mr. Mean’s lawyer, Leng Lihour, said his client was not responsible for Mr. Pay’s inability to develop the site and that he had been unable to submit the documents because the Environment Ministry had revoked the license for the ELC in October last year.
“The government took back the land concession in order to share it with the people,” Mr. Lihour told the court.
The ministry has revoked the licenses of several ELCs in the past year for allegedly violating the terms of their contracts with the government, but has declined to specify the infractions of each company.
Em Sopheak, provincial coordinator for the Community Legal Education Center, an NGO, said he believed Mr. Pay’s license was revoked because of a dispute he had with hundreds of families living on the land, and because part of the concession overlapped with a protected area.
“Kasekam Khmer Angkor had a land dispute with 300 families, and a piece of its land overlapped with the Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary,” he said.
Mr. Sopheak said the government has since allowed the families, mostly rice and cassava farmers, to stay on the land.