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Defamation suits follow NGO report

Lumber that is alleged to have been felled illegally sits on land owned by Try Pheap in Kampong Thom province in May.
Lumber that is alleged to have been felled illegally sits on land owned by Try Pheap in Kampong Thom province in May. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Defamation suits follow NGO report

Tycoon Try Pheap has filed a defamation complaint against two people quoted in an NGO report released last week that accused him of illegal logging and widespread land grabbing, summonses obtained yesterday reveal.

The documents, bearing the signature of Kandal Provincial Court prosecutor Sam Rithy Veasna, are dated Friday.

This is only two days after the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force alleged in a report that Pheap’s land empire, built on government concessions, had expanded to more than 70,000 hectares, displacing at least 1,445 families and facilitating an illegal-logging syndicate.

Sen San and Ouk Sambo, from Kandal province’s Kandal Stung district, close to where Pheap has a residence, have been ordered to appear for questioning in the provincial court on Friday morning.

“All I said was that he is rich and is a timber businessman. But I have been accused of defamation,” San said yesterday. “I fear this summons – because he is rich and powerful. Even though we are in the right, we won’t be able to win this case. But I will show up as scheduled.”

San, a Cambodia National Rescue Party representative in the commune, said the complaint may also relate to his political alliances.

“What they are doing is intimidating me. Trying to make me afraid,” he said.

Pheap, the director of the MDS Import-Export company, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

A company representative, who spoke to the Post last week about the allegations in the CHRTF report, said he knew nothing of the defamation complaints.

CHRTF director Ouch Leng, who compiled the report, said the summonses were an example of the company trying to use the courts to threaten those who spoke “the truth”.

“This is the company’s culture,” he said. “The rich and powerful are always using the judicial system to suppress and discourage people. This must stop in the fifth mandate – the government has pledged reforms.”

Sok Sam Oeun, director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said that if the summonses do relate to the two villagers’ comments in the report, it is unusual that police have not investigated the matter first.

“In this case, only the court has taken action following the complaint,” he said.

CHRTF’s report claims that 1,445 families have been evicted from their homes during Pheap’s acquisition of about 68,088 hectares since 2010.

By law, an individual can own only 10,000 hectares of economic land concessions in Cambodia.

CHRTF said it used a team of investigators across the country to monitor the activities of Pheap’s companies, which it alleges number 15 and are registered under either his or his wife’s name.

The NGO alleges it has seen company officials selling illegally felled timber, primarily rosewood, to dealers operating in Vietnam.

“The main business and politics of tycoon Try Pheap is to operate a timber business under the cloak of ELCs and … transport wood openly from Cambodia to Vietnam,” Leng told the Post last week.

Rithy Veasna, the provincial court prosecutor, could not be reached for comment.

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