The Appeal Court yesterday more than halved the sentence of businesswoman Chhin Sokountheary, whose croc farm plans earned her the nickname “Crocodile Grandmother”, given after her 2012 conviction for encroaching on 34 hectares of state land – land that her defence team says she still legally owns.
“The Appeal Court decided to uphold the decision of Phnom Penh [Municipal] Court . . . but it has reduced Chhin Sokountheary’s punishment from four years and six months to two years in prison,” presiding judge Nguon Im said yesterday.
“The Appeal Court decided to reduce her fine from 30 million riel [about $7,500] to 15 million riel and cancelled her 60 million riel compensation [payment],” he added.
Sok Sam Oeun, the executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project and attorney for Sokountheary – who was tried in absentia – lambasted the verdict, saying that all the evidence pointed in his client’s favour.
“I think that the court’s decision was not just . . . I could not accept it,” he said yesterday. “However, now I do not know whether she will appeal it to the highest court or not.”
Oeun yesterday echoed Sokountheary’s long-held contention that she legally purchased the land with the acknowledgement of local authorities in 1999 – as reportedly shown with evidence of 18 land ownership transfer certificates – and that she paid tax on it in 2011.
In March of last year, Sokountheary filed an abuse-of-power lawsuit against then-Phnom Penh governor Kep Chuktema and his alleged accomplices for falsifying documents that illegally reclassified the land in question as belonging to the state.
The $100 million suit was summarily dismissed by Phnom Penh Municipal Court, which offered no explanation.
The Appeal Court later upheld the decision to throw the suit out, saying that the sub-decree classifying the land as state property “was in the interest of the public”.