The legitimacy of a lawsuit filed by prominent businesswoman Chhin Sokountheary, also known as “Crocodile Grandmother”, accusing Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema of abusing his power by stealing some 34 hectares of privately owned land is being called into question by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, a court official said yesterday.
According to court president Chiv Keng, the court is investigating whether or not Sokountheary’s thumbprint on the lawsuit is genuine, given that she is currently on the run after being sentenced in absentia last December to four-and-a-half years in jail on charges of encroaching onto state land, land she maintains in her lawsuit was lawfully purchased.
“I am wondering whether her thumbprint, which was made on her lawsuit that was sent to court, might be a fake, because she has escaped and could not have come to make it,” said Keng.
Sok Sam Oeun, head of the Cambodian Defenders Project and Sokountheary’s lawyer, said that a person doesn’t have to be in Cambodia to thumbprint a legal document, and that in this case, Sokountheary had indeed made her thumbprint, which was then delivered to the court by a relative.
According to a copy of the lawsuit, the document was recognised and received by the court prosecutor’s office on March 20. In it, Sokountheary maintains that her company purchased the land in the capital’s Sen Sok district legally, “as evidenced by 18 copies of Land Ownership Transfer Certificate[s],” and paid tax on it in 2011.
“While I have lawfully occupied the land, Mr. Kep Chuktema and his accomplices... made a false report to Samdech Prime Minister [Hun Sen], accusing me of illegally encroaching upon the state public land,” she said, noting that Chuktema then ordered the confiscation of her machinery and the arrest of her workers even though she had “obtained the clearance permit No. 461, dated August 1, 2012” from commune authorities.
Sokountheary is seeking $100 million in damages from Chuktema and his alleged accomplices.
Chuktema could not be reached for comment yesterday, and Phnom Penh Municipal Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said he had been “asked not to comment about” the matter.
To contact the reporter on this story: Buth Reaksmey Kongkea at firstname.lastname@example.org