Charges of destruction of property and land grabbing have been filed against Phanimex Director Suy Sophan at Kandal Provincial Court by well-known US lawyer Bretton Sciaroni acting on behalf of a new NGO for orphans funded by Elizabeth Johnson—heiress to the fortune of the US health-care product giant Johnson & Johnson.
“The complaints were made against [Suy Sophan] after she took her armed guards and bulldozers to clear the NGO’s fence posts over the last two or three months,” Kandal court Prosecutor Chheng Phath said Sunday.
Bretton Sciaroni, lead plaintiff and shareholder with Johnson in the new NGO for orphans, Sovann Komar, meaning “Golden Children” Foundation, alleged that the Phanimex director had encroached on land purchased for his organization’s planned residential, healthcare and educational facilities for 200 orphans.
“She brought in her people with bulldozers to knock down our fences to acquire more land,” Sciaroni alleged.
“It was a land grab, pure and simple,” he added.
Sciaroni said he and Sovann Komar Executive Director Sothea Arun hold 51 percent of the Sovann Komar Corporation, which was set up to hold the land, while Johnson is a 49 percent shareholder in the corporation.
Suy Sophan denied the allegations on Sunday, claiming that she purchased approximately 70 percent of the disputed land in 1993 and 1994 from more than 50 families who were living there.
Suy Sophan admitted that she had sent armed guards and bulldozers to the land, but claimed it was her right to stop “ringleaders” who had destroyed her property and attempted to sell her land to the NGO.
She added that she had titles issued by both the district and the provincial land management departments in 1995 attesting to her ownership.
Sciaroni countered that none of the more than 300 land titles produced were in Suy Sophan’s name.
“She claims she got these titles in 1993 and 1994; why did she never register them in her name?” Sciaroni asked. “We have grave doubts about their validity,” he said.