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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Borei Keila firm told to pay $2.7 million

A woman carries household belongings to Building 9 at Phnom Penh’s Borei Keila community in February
A woman carries household belongings to Building 9 at Phnom Penh’s Borei Keila community in February. A court document reveals details of an uncompleted deal to sell part of the land to a Korean company. Vireak Mai

Borei Keila firm told to pay $2.7 million

Suy Sophan, the owner of development firm Phan Imex, has been ordered to repay $2.7 million to a Korean company over an uncompleted sale of land at Borei Keila, from where hundreds have been violently evicted, a court document reveals.

In a decision handed down in October, Phnom Penh Municipal Court ruled that Sophan must return the money – a deposit from the sale of more than four hectares of land at Borei Keila – to Song Dong Soo, a director of the Landevel company, after Phan Imex did not complete the sale.

“The [court] decides to cancel the agreement made on August 14, 2009 [and] orders Suy Sophan to pay money back to Song Dong Soo,” says the document, signed by court clerk Ban Vath and presiding judge Te Sam Ang and obtained by the Post yesterday.

Sophan was also ordered to pay interest of 10 per cent, backdated to 2009, and $20,000 in compensation.

That money has yet to change hands, however, as Sophan has appealed the verdict.

Sophan’s lawyer, Lam Kim Seng, declined to talk in detail about the case yesterday.

“I will not comment on the court’s verdict, but how can my client pay the money now with an appeal case pending?” he said.

“If we lose this case again in the Appeal Court, we will take it to the Supreme Court,” he added.

About a decade ago, Phan Imex acquired the rights to land at Borei Keila as part of a government-granted economic land concession. In exchange for developing land on which villagers lived, the company agreed to build 10 high-rise apartment buildings for more than 1,700 families. Only eight were completed, however, and the remaining families were told they had to relocate to squalid sites out of the city.

Many refused that offer and took up residence in tents at Borei Keila in early 2012 after being violently evicted from their homes.

While the public has witnessed violent crackdowns on Borei Keila’s evictees at the site, the battle between Phan Imex and Landevel has been fought in private for some years, Landevel representative Yoon Jun Yean said yesterday.

“In 2007, Song Dong Soo paid a deposit of more than $2.7 million for 4.3 hectares of land in Borei Keila from Suy Sophan,” he said, adding that the company intended to build a travel office. “Then she did not have this much land to provide our company. She reduced the amount of land to only about three hectares.

“We agreed to that, but in 2008, when prices skyrocketed, she tried to cancel the agreement so she could sell it to us at a higher price.”

Jun Yean said a complicated legal process followed and the company was awarded 2,000 square metres of land, which it did not receive. The case ended up back in court in October.

Sophan’s lawyer, Kim Seng, said that Dong Soo had been given the 2,000 square metres of land and a title.

Uncertainty has surrounded plans for empty land at Borei Keila in the past two years.

Borei Keila representative Pich Lim Khoun said yesterday that he had heard rumours of a Korean firm owning part of it, including the abandoned building evictees occupied in protest last month before a violent crackdown.

“When we moved in here [last month], the owner didn’t come, just the authorities,” he said.

“I’m still shocked to learn this. Maybe this conflict between the companies has caused the government to ignore us and leave us here in these terrible conditions.”

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