Frenchman’s Family Raises Questions Over Stolen Land Titles

A Frenchman found dead with his four children at the bottom of a pond under mysterious circumstances last year was embroiled in an acrimonious land dispute with his late wife’s family at the time of his death, his family said this week.

The brother of Laurent Vallier, Xavier Vallier, said in an email that his brother’s relationship with his in-laws had always been rocky on account of several quarrels over money. “Even when his wife was still alive, the family tended to treat Laurent as an open wallet,” he said.

However, after the death of his wife in 2009, the feud worsened. “Only shortly before his disappearance [in September 2011], he endured robberies and vandalism, as well as the poisoning of his dogs and pigs,” Mr. Vallier said.

“There were many incidents of theft, of which the most remarkable was the theft of land titles for rice paddies [about 15 hectares], which were later sold into the family-in-law’s account.”

Genevieve Vallier, Laurent Vallier’s mother, also alleged that the titles for the rice paddies that her son and his late wife had bought in the hope of developing a larger plantation had been stolen. “Riddled with debts, the family-in-law had stolen the papers for 15 hectares of rice paddies that Laurent and his wife had bought in order to sell them,” she said in an email.

Ms. Vallier also claimed that Laurent Vallier’s father-in-law, Tith Chhuon, had gone to the French Embassy in Phnom Penh a few days before her son’s body was discovered in a pond behind his house, and asked to claim his property since he and his children “were already dead.”

Several attempts to reach Laurent Vallier’s in-laws went unanswered. However, they have said in the past that their interest in the land has absolutely no link with the death of Laurent Vallier and his four children.

Pascale Gautier, a friend of Laurent Vallier who was with him just weeks before his disappearance in September, said that everything seemed normal with him at the time, but he would sometimes bring up the ongoing dispute with his late wife’s in-laws over property ownership.

“Relations between Laurent and his in-laws were never good, and they continued to worsen after the death of their daughter,” she said.

Ms. Gautier added that Laurent Vallier had recently sold his house to move to Prey Veng and build a rice paddy plantation on land he owned there. “He had many plans for the future and was a very present father concerned with the future of his children.”

Officials at the Kompong Speu Provincial Court are also investigating the long-standing quarrel between Laurent Vallier and his in-laws over property ownership in the hope of shedding new light on the dead Frenchman’s case.

Provincial investigating Judge Chhim Ritthy said that on January 24 he would question five people—including Mr. Chhuon, Laurent Vallier’s father-in-law; Sar Savy, his mother-in-law; and Srey On, his sister-in-law—about how the family came to acquire land titles in Prey Veng’s Kompong Trabek district that used to belong to the Frenchman.

“It is not a dispute, but there was no agreement on the land, and the sister-in-law had allegedly stolen the land titles,” said Judge Ritthy on Tuesday, adding that he had issued a order to land management officials in Prey Veng to determine when the land titles in Chrey commune were handed out.

According to Chrey commune chief Khan Pheach, the nine land titles were registered three or four months ago by Ms. On, the sister-in-law, as part of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s land-titling program. “The land has been registered, but we have not given it to the family yet,” he said.

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