The Siem Reap Provincial Court last week questioned a CPP village chief concurrently with a Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) commune chief after they signed documents allowing villagers to mortgage land claimed by the Apsara Authority, officials said on Monday, but charged and jailed only the opposition party member.
Long Kosal, a spokesman for the Apsara Authority, the government body that oversees the Angkor Archaeological Park, said the authority had filed complaints against both men, and that he believed the CPP village chief was dismissed for procedural reasons and would be prosecuted imminently.
“It doesn’t mean the court has declined to take action against the village chief,” Mr. Kosal said. “It means both Ampil commune chief Heang Sary, from the SRP, as well as the village chief Pat Koek, from the CPP, will get the same charges for committing crimes.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Sary, the chief of Siem Reap City’s Ampil commune, was arrested at the court, charged with fraudulent delivery of documents and conspiracy to violate public property, and sent to the provincial prison to await trial.
On Monday, Chheng Sey, an Ampil commune councilor and fellow SRP member, said he visited Mr. Sary in prison on Wednesday, and that the commune chief told him that that the investigating judge also questioned Mr. Koek on Wednesday, only to allow him to walk free.
“We question why the court only detained the commune chief in prison and allowed the village chief to walk out of court freely, even though the village chief from CPP first signed off those documents,” he said.
“It seems as though the imprisonment was politically motivated.”
Investigating Judge Chhun Chanseiha confirmed that he was in charge of the case. Asked why the village chief was not also arrested and charged, he said he was “in a trial” and declined to comment.
Mr. Kosal, the Apsara Authority spokesman, said Mr. Koek was not charged because he “asked to change defense lawyers.”
“What I know is that the court has summoned the village chief to appear at the courthouse soon,” he said.
Mr. Kosal said the authority filed a complaint in October accusing both Mr. Koek and Mr. Sary of illegally signing off on documents that allowed members of the 60 families at the center of the case to construct homes and mortgage land on 50 hectares owned by the state.
He said the charges against Mr. Sary stemmed from the fact that the disputed plot was not in Ampil commune, but in nearby Nokor Thom commune.
“We accused both of them; we didn’t just target one person,” he said.
According to Mr. Kosal, the government demarcated the 50 hectares in 1995, and earmarked it for development as a cultural and tourism zone. He said Siem Reap City authorities had repeatedly informed the village and commune chiefs that the issuance of such documents was illegal.
Mr. Sey, the Ampil commune councilor, however, rejected Mr. Kosal’s account, maintaining that the 60 families have long had proof of land ownership in the area. He said the village and commune chiefs had simply been following the practices of their predecessors, who signed off on identical documents in the past.
Villagers confirmed Mr. Sey’s account.
“I purchased land here in 2004 and my land document was signed by the former commune chief from the CPP proving that my land is located in Prey Koy village [in Ampil commune], not Anhchanh village [in Nokor Thom commune],” said 53-year-old villager Moeung Leng.
“I voted in every election while registered as a villager from Prey Koy village and the Apsara Authority has never paid us compensation to leave,” she added.