The Mondolkiri Provincial Court charged two men with fraud on Sunday for allegedly cheating more than 200 families out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by “selling” them state land.
Deputy prosecutor Chea Sovantheth said he laid provisional charges against Keo Vuthy and Theat Sary, then sent the case to an investigating judge, who confirmed the charges and sent them to prison to await trial.
“We arrested the two people and put them in prison because the land belongs to the state, but they collected between $500 and $1,500 each from 251 families and promised to take the land back for them” from the state, he said.
Sou Sovan, a deputy provincial police chief, said Mr. Vuthy, 33, and Mr. Sary, 58, were arrested on Friday, four days after the families lodged their complaint.
He said authorities initially arrested five people but soon released three after determining that they were not involved in the case. Mr. Sovantheth added that Mr. Vuthy and Mr. Sary confessed to scamming the families in installments of 1 million riel, about $250, but downplayed the number of victims.
“Vuthy and Sary confessed to authorities that they collected 1 million riel from more than 100 families,” he said. “We saw some documents proving that they received money in return for providing the families with five hectares each.”
Authorities said they did not yet know exactly how much money, in total, the pair collected from the families for land they had no right to sell. Based on the amounts they collected for each, the figure would be somewhere between $125,500 and $376,500.
Ti Vanno, a representative of the families, said they moved onto the land in Koh Nhek district’s Rayar commune in 2013, but were evicted by local authorities the following year. He said it was then that Mr. Vuthy and Mr. Sary approached them with the promise of getting the land back—for a price.
When the families started clearing the land again last year, he said, they found that a second group of families also claimed the same property and authorities once again stepped in.