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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Dispute with minister ends in jail

Dispute with minister ends in jail


THE MINISTER of Justice, Uk Vithun, and his wife, Uk Lihour, are embroiled in a

legal wrangle over house ownership with their neighbor - who was thrown into

jail on charges of organized crime, libel, and attempted manslaughter after an

argument with Lihour over the matter.

The house on the left belongs to the Minister of Justice, Uk Vithun; that on the right is jointly owned by his wife, Uk Lihour, and Leng Sreng

The jailed man, Leng Sreng, was

freed last night, Aug 5, after the prosecutor withdrew the most serious of the


Sreng owns a four-story house that adjoins the Uk house on

Sisowath Quay. Earlier this year, the top floor of his house, (E3), and part of

the first floor, which is sectioned into two flats (E1a and E1b), were sold to

Uk Vithun's wife, Lihour.

She, however, claims that the entire first

floor of the building belongs to her - and continuing disagreements over

ownership escalated into a full-blown confrontation at the end of July, when she

found Leng Sreng and his relatives (including a three-star general and his

bodyguards) in flat E1b - the disputed first floor flat.

A lawyer,

prosecutor and the gendarmerie were called to the residence, and Sreng's wife

and son were arrested. Sreng himself was called to the court and arrested the

following day.

Som Chandyna, lawyer for Lihour, said that Leng Sreng's

family had been arrested "because they had brought the general to make a

problem, and because they used bad words and wanted to fight Lihour".


said he was present during the altercation at the house.

He alleged that

the bodyguards of the general had pistols with them, but admitted he had not

seen them.

"I'm not sure if they had handguns or not, but the bodyguards

of generals usually do," he said.

Asked why the accused were charged with

organized crime, attempted manslaughter and libel, he said he did not know, and

that the Post should ask the prosecutor.

"Perhaps the prosecutor thought

that these people were conspiring against Madame Uk Vithun," he said.


prosecutor refused to comment.

A legal adviser to Leng Sreng, who did not

wish to be named, said that Lihour had no right to the entire floor and the

charges against his client were spurious.

"Leng Sreng has a document

proving that flat [E1b] belongs to him," he said. "And nobody had any weapons

... Leng Sreng is the real victim, not the offender," he said.


of Justice Uk Vithun was keen to avoid questions about the case when the Post

visited his office on August 4.

"This is not an important story," he

said. "I can tell you that this problem is already agreed with Leng Sreng, and

he will be released today or tomorrow."

Vithun insisted neither he nor

his wife asked for Sreng to be arrested.

"I don't know who asked for him

to be arrested," he said. "I did not send him to jail. You should ask the court

what happened."

But he said he wanted the dispute to be finished. "If

Leng Sreng's family ask for a pardon, I will do it," he said.


charges cannot be withdrawn by the plaintiff but are considered issues for the


He then said that if the Post story was aborted he would provide

information for much better stories in the future.

In the evening of the

day of the interview, the Post was contacted several times by a Funcinpec MP

acting as an intermediary for Leng Sreng's family, saying they did not want a

story published because they were concerned that Leng Sreng would not be

released from jail if it was.

"You understand [the situation in]

Cambodia," said the MP.

The ownership of the two flats is also the

subject of a coming civil case at the municipal court, which was pending before

the criminal charges of attempted manslaughter, libel and organized


The first floor of the house was originally owned by an entirely

separate family, two brothers and a sister. The family split the first floor

into two apartments; flat E1a was sold to Uk Vithun's wife by the two brothers,

flat E1b was sold to Leng Sreng by the sister.

But Chandyna claimed

Lihour was told by the brothers that the whole of the first floor now belonged

to her. Chandyna said that the brothers deny that their sister had any authority

to sell the second part of the flat to Leng Sreng.

The disputed ownership

has led to a series of domestic squabbles between the two households.


June, Sreng, finding that the door to flat E1b had been locked by Lihour,

knocked a hole from his second floor flat (E2) into E1b, and installed a


Lihour, furious at what she believed was a violation of her

property, ordered him to take away the staircase. She also filed a complaint at

court, through her relative Heng Khum, demanding $5,000 in damages to the wall

of her neighboring house, plus $3,000 in mental damages.

The hearing for

that case took place on June 24. Judge Om Sarith ruled that the stairs must be

taken away - something that was purely academic by that point, as according to

Sreng's legal advisor the stairs had been removed by Lihour's builders even

before the hearing took place.

But the troubles did not stop


A leaky waste pipe was the next bone of contention. The pipe from

the toilet in Leng Sreng's flat E2 extends down through Lihour's flat (E1a) and,

according to Sreng's legal advisor, was rusty and had started to leak. Lihour

requested on July 13 that he replace the pipe with a plastic version - but just

one day after her request, she brought in builders to remove the pipe, making

Sreng's toilet unusable.

According to Sreng's legal adviser, it was just

a few days later, on July 22, that Lihour brought in builders to "knock down the

dividing wall between the apartments [E1a and b]." It was at this point that the

dispute which led to the arrest of Sreng's wife and son erupted, as Sreng's

family tried to convince the builders not to knock down the wall.


[Lihour] saw Leng Sreng and his relatives she was very angry," said the adviser.

"She used many bad words and said they had no right to go into her


According to him, it was Lihour that requested the gendarmerie be

called, but Uk Vithun and Chandyna deny this.

"It was the prosecutor who

called for the arrest," he said, explaining that he himself had called the

prosecutor to the scene of the dispute.

Chandyna's name appears in the

court register as the plaintiff in the criminal case but he could not explain

why the charges of organized crime or attempted manslaughter had been laid

against Sreng.

The legal adviser said the allegations were baseless.

"There are no grounds at all for these charges, it's all about power," he said.



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