The family of former high-profile environmentalist Chut Wutty, shot to death in 2012 after years of fighting illegal logging, is now locked in a fight of its own, struggling – and failing – to pay off a sizeable debt incurred to fund Wutty’s activism.
According to Choeuy Oddom Rasmey, Wutty’s son, his mother is now three months behind on her payments to First Commercial Bank, and has another three months to catch up. If she fails to do so, the family faces losing its house and land, which Wutty and his wife decided to put up for collateral against a $100,000 loan to fund Wutty’s work.
Oddom Rasmey is now calling on donors, NGOs and even the government itself to consider his father’s record, and help with the debt.
“I would like Prime Minister Hun Sen to help my family, because my dad did a lot for the nation,” he said. “We badly need the money, or we will be living on the roadside, because the bank only gave us three months more.
“I have lost my father, and now I’m facing losing my house.
“Now, we not only face losing the house, but also my two younger brothers face losing their schooling when my mum can’t support them,” he added.
Wutty often seemed to worry more about the forests that he strove to save than he did about his family, spending vast amounts of time in the field, Oddom Rasmey said.
The $100,000, he continued, was spent paying for transportation, and outfitting a network of fellow activists with cameras and mobile phones to facilitate their forest monitoring. The loan was taken out just months before Wutty’s death, and since then, the family had only been able to keep up with interest payments, which come to about $500 a month. As a result, Oddom Rasmey said, very little of the principal has been paid off.
Though the circumstances of Wutty’s 2012 shooting still remain murky, it is known that he was shot by military police officer In Rattana while investigating a company’s involvement in illegal logging. At the time, activists and observers criticised authorities for failing to adequately investigate the killing.
According to legal expert Sok Sam Oeun, Wutty’s wife is responsible for his debts due to the fact that co-owners of a debtor’s estate are responsible for their debts, and “any property that any of them get during the marriage” is considered jointly owned under the law.
However, said Ouch Leng, director of the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force, given Wutty’s contributions, not only should his debts be forgiven, he should be praised as well.
“In fact, we should honour him, because he was a hero,” he said. “He protected the natural environment, and he was killed when he went to crack down on forest crimes.”
Representatives of First Commercial Bank could not be reached for comment.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY STUART WHITE