A group of 120 Phnom Penh families denied paying a government official US$200,000 to intervene on their behalf in a land dispute in a letter released to local media.
The thumbprinted letter, dated Monday, came from families living in the capital's Kakab commune, Dangkor district.
In March 2008, the Council of Ministers issued a directive ordering that the families be allowed to remain on 6 hectares of land in Kakab. This land was also claimed by a woman in the area, 60-year-old Huot Sarom.
Controversy emerged when Seng Yean, deputy director general of inspection at the Ministry of National Assembly-Senate Relations, was accused of accepting a bribe from a local woman, Di Prem, on behalf of the families.
Seng Yean was removed from his position on July 31 by an order from Prime Minister Hun Sen, and the two were officially charged by Phnom Penh Municipal Court on August 7.
In their letter, the families wrote that they "do not have enough money" to raise the sum allegedly paid to Seng Yean, and that while Di Prem offered them assistance in filing their complaint against Huot Sarom, she was not paid any money.
The letter added that Huot Sarom had not respected the government directive granting the 6 hectares of land to the families.
We are the owners, but we are also the victims.
Representatives of Huot Sarom, however, rejected the families' denials, reiterating their claims that Seng Yean had been bribed.
Kao Ty, the lawyer for Huot Sarom, said on Wednesday that his client has worked in the rice fields around Kakab commune since 1979, and that the families' letter was "unjust" toward Huot Sarom.
"The 6 hectares of land belong to Huot Sarom. Those people have land in the same village nearby," Kao Ty said. He claimed the letter was written only to cover up the bribe.
Kong Kimly, Huot Sarom's 30-year-old son, said Wednesday that his mother had not seized anyone's land, echoing Kao Ty's claim that the families reside in a different part of the village.
"We are the owners, but we are also the victims," he said.
Seng Yean and Di Prem were unavailable for comment. Local media reported on Saturday that the two fled the country after being charged by the Municipal Court, though these reports have not been substantiated.
Sin Visal, a judge at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, told the Post on Wednesday that he was looking into the bribery charges, but that a resolution would take time.
"I have just received this case, so I will have to investigate it," he said.