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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Opposition party alleges corrupt government land deal

Opposition party alleges corrupt government land deal

121207_04

Sam Rainsy Party whip Son Chhay, pictured in March 2012, confronted parliament on the question of Economic Land Concessions. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

A now defunct Australian firm signed a more than $100 million contract for hundreds of thousands of hectares of land claimed by a Cambodian company through a highly suspicious deal in 2008, according to documents obtained by the Post.

The opposition Sam Rainsy Party raised the deal in parliament yesterday as yet another example of how a shadowy trade in economic land concessions has emerged due to a lack of transparent government disclosure.

SRP party whip Son Chhay pointed out yesterday that the only official fees paid for such ELCs were minuscule amounts of stamp duty, an investment that appeared to have netted original grantee P.C.Co Peanich Ltd $112 million for 350,000 hectares of land in Stung Treng province that was supposed to be for development.

But there is no evidence that the original ELC was even granted, and Stung Treng provincial governor Loy Sophat said yesterday that the government had never given the land in Stung Treng to a private company.

“And I don’t know why they have the contract on the paper, as I am an authority here – I have never known anything [about this]. I don’t know where that paper came from,” he said.

Sophat said the land remained in state hands and was not up for development.

A copy of the contract, which is not signed by any government body, provided by Son Chhay shows Australian firm Prestige Finance & Investments Pty, Ltd, which is listed by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission as deregistered, as having signed for the land.

ASIC records show the Australian firm, which had a list of unspecified officeholders and other roles made up of eight Vietnamese-born individuals and one Israeli in 2010, was deregistered on June 20 the same year.

The contract lists the company representative as Hannah Nguyen or Tong My Hanh, who ASIC records show owned $3,000 worth of the firm’s total $10,000 in stock while it existed.

After the sitting, Chhay said CPP lawmakers had refused to come clean about the details of this deal and others, declining to answer such questions as to why it appeared the previous lease holders of the land had illegally speculated.

“They commit wrong­doing, and when the government have not acted or have not done anything about it, I think they are somehow involved with wrongdoing.”

“So this is something interesting, so the question is who owns this land now? The government has to respond to my question. I am still waiting for Mr [Deputy Prime Minister] Sok An to respond to this,” he said, adding he had first made inquiries about the case nine months ago.

CPP lawmakers remained mum yesterday on specific cases of questionable ELCs raised by Chhay, instead talking more broadly of the government’s “leap frog” (step-by-step) development strategy.

Nicolas Agostini, a land expert at the rights group Adhoc, said the stated goal of ELCs as a driving force of development could not be achieved unless all relevant documents were made publicly available.

“They have to be consistent; if they claim that ELCs are for the development of Cambodia, then the development has to be transparent so they have to disclose all information,” he said.

“Also, given the moratorium that was announced in May, we have been told that some ELCs have been granted since the moratorium, and we have been told we cannot be told how many more ELCs are in the pipeline.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen set that moratorium on new ELCs amidst swelling public outrage about rampant land-grabbing but included a clause which allowed concessions already under consideration to still be granted.

To contact the reporters on this story: David Boyle at david.boyle@phnompenhpost.com
May Titthara at titthara.may@phnompenhpost.com

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