An increasingly public row over a plot of land in Banteay Meanchey has pitted one of the nation’s top drug cops against a brother of the prime minister, prompting a National Police investigation at the highest levels and raising, yet again, questions about nepotism and abuse of power in the Kingdom.
In a document, circulated widely in media circles yesterday and appearing to be authentic, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s brother Hun San accuses National Police Anti-Drug Chief Mok Chito of a campaign of interference and harassment relating to a personal land dispute, and asks Interior Minister Sar Kheng to intervene on his behalf.
The missive appears to have spurred a rapid response from Cambodian authorities – often criticised for their unenthusiastic approach to investigations – with a note affixed to the document, purportedly from Kheng himself, directing National Police Chief Neth Savoeun to look into the complaint just three days later.
In the May 2 letter, Hun San asks Kheng to prevent Chito, also a deputy National Police commissioner, from abusing his power to obstruct construction activity on a 119-hectare piece of land.
“Please Samdech [Sar Kheng] help instruct His Excellency Mok Chito, who is protecting offending officials encroaching on my land, creating discomfort for me and my children and decreasing the popularity, unity and faith of the Cambodian People’s Party, especially the ruling party’s family,” the initial letter reads.
The complaint was printed on letterhead from the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, where Hun San is an official at the Kampuchea Shipping Agency and Brokers.
In a remarkably quick handling of the case, Kheng instructed Savouen on May 5 to investigate Hun San’s complaint, according to his note on the document.
However, Hun San’s complaint does not note the fact that the land is subject to litigation over its ownership. Banteay Meanchey Deputy Court Prosecutor Sok Keobandith confirmed yesterday that an injunction had been ordered on the land since January 2016. “The court is doing its procedures and has not decided who the land belongs to.”
Deputy Provincial Police Chief Sith Loh said the court had asked that construction be stopped on the land, and police officials were only following up on that order.
For his part, Chito questioned Hun San’s allegations yesterday, saying he was aware of the land dispute but had not intervened in the case and did not even know where the land was located.
He added that he had already spoken to Hun San conveying that he had not instructed police officials to threaten the premier’s brother.
“I said that I have never been there, nor met with his colleagues, so how could I threaten [him]? And I told him that ‘what you believe is wrong’,” he said.
Chito said he was made aware of the case by both Hun San’s son-in-law and Hong Mao, one of the plaintiffs against Hun San in the suit, after which he refused to take sides.
Neither Hun San nor Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak could be reached.
San Chey, executive director of transparency NGO ANSA, questioned Hun San’s use of an official letterhead in what was clearly a personal matter.
“The land does not belong to the Ministry of Public Works and Transport but belongs to an individual. For me it is hilarious that top government officials do not understand how to use ministry letterheads,” he said.
Licadho’s Am Sam Ath said the promptness of Kheng’s directive showed a double standard because land disputes involving ordinary citizens were never addressed with such alacrity.
“We can see this case is very fast because the complainant is a brother of the Prime Minister and also works in government,” he added, alluding to a Khmer proverb in which fighting elephants crush the ants. “This is just a conflict in the ruling party, or the two so-called elephants fighting with each other.”