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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Koh Kong king bowed out of ‘blood sugar’ firm

Koh Kong king bowed out of ‘blood sugar’ firm

A sugar company originally part-owned by ruling party Senator Ly Yong Phat that has long fought villagers over a land dispute in Koh Kong province is now under the complete control of two foreign-owned companies, statements released by the firms last week reveal.

The Mitr Pohl Group, from Thailand, has acknowledged its 70 per cent ownership in the Koh Kong Plantation Co Ltd of which the final 30 per cent is owned by Taiwanese firm Ve Wong Corp.

The conglomerate operates a sugar plantation on a 9,700 hectare economic land concession granted to Ly Yong Phat in 2006 and another adjacent 9,400 ELC that was not registered to the senator, which rights groups allege are effectively a single lease.

A statement from Ve Wong Corp, released to the London-based Business & Human Rights Centre on July 24, said Ly Yong Phat sold his shares in Koh Kong Plantation Co Ltd in 2010, though no mention was made about ownership of the 9,700 hectare ELC.

It is not clear who retains title over the ELC now that it has been confirmed Ly Yong Phat bowed out of the venture.

Nicolas Agostini, a Technical Assistant at the rights group Adhoc, said the sub-decree on ELCs stipulated that they could not be transferred to another party, though this did not necessarily rule the possibility out.

“For the transfer of concessions between one company or person to another you have to look at the contract, not the sub-decree,” he said.

Ly Yong Phat Group does not mention Koh Kong Plantation Co Ltd or the associated ELCs among its holdings on their website and the company has not responded to inquiries.

The void of information on who actually holds title over the ELCs makes it difficult for some 200 families who have been fighting against the conglomerate that they allege illegally bulldozed 1,490 hectares of their farmland in 2006, Agostini said.

“It highlights the difficulties faced by parties affected by the ELC as they do not have access to the necessary documents to determine their rights,” he added.

More than six years later, after repeated road blocks and protests, they are scheduled to have their case heard on July 26 after the court delayed the hearing on July 12.

Koh Kong Plantation Co Ltd has been targeted by the Boycott Blood Sugar campaign, led by a coalition of rights groups, which has called on the European Union to stop giving Cambodian sugar producers preferential trade benefits under the Everything But Arms Agreement.

The agreement is intended to benefit developing countries by providing preferential access to EU markets but Boycott Blood Sugar argue in Cambodia it simply helps rich unscrupulous tycoons build their wealth while committing rights abuses against the poor.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gregory Pellechi at gregory.pellechi@phnompenhpost.com

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