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A fruit vendor packs fruit for a customer
A fruit vendor packs fruit for a customer yesterday at a market in Phnom Penh where Roth Sopheap’s company is responsible for collecting rent from shop owners. Pha Lina

Vendors see justice in arrest

The Friday arrest of a local businesswoman who holds the municipal contract to collect parking and stall fees from markets citywide on breach of trust charges came as no surprise to many vendors, aggrieved by what they say are her unfair business practices.

Cheav Vibol, deputy director of the minor crimes department of the Phnom Penh Municipal Police Station, said yesterday that Roth Sopheap’s arrest was ordered by municipal court judge Pich Maren for alleged breaches of trust committed between 2009 and 2013.

“After a three-hour interrogation, the court ordered the authorities to transport Roth Sopheap to the Phnom Penh Municipal Police Station [to hold her] for further questioning on Monday,” Vibol said.

Municipal spokesman Long Dimanche said yesterday that he thought the charges stemmed from a “personal case” unrelated to Sopheap’s city contract, but that didn’t stop an outpouring of schadenfreude yesterday from disgruntled vendors affected by her purportedly poor stewardship of the city’s markets.

Chan Vicheka, 35, who lives on Monivong Boulevard near Central Market, said that after receiving the license to collect market and parking fees, Sopheap had demanded greater amounts than those outlined by the Ministry of Finance. What’s more, he continued, his own property was colonised in a recently halted bid to turn Monivong’s sidewalks into paid parking spaces.

“My front yard was used as parking spaces by Roth Sopheap’s company,” Vicheka said, adding that the flawed scheme was a pain for both residents and motorists.

Second-hand shoe seller Kem Heng, 57, said that under Sopheap’s regime, she had been forced to pay about $1.40 a day – negotiated down from $2 – for a space near Wat Ounalom she had previously occupied for free, with nary a receipt to show for it. In order to first secure her payments, she added, Sopheap’s agents confiscated her goods and held them hostage.

Nonetheless, Heng said, the arrest was likely a show meant to deflect disapproval.

“I think that arresting Roth Sopheap is just a play, and doing this will keep people and sellers from criticising her,” she said.

However, Pov Sopheak, a vendor near Psar Chas market, hailed the arrest as a promising development in the fight against corruption and “opportunists,” and said he wasn’t ready to write off the case just yet.

“We will wait and see how effectively the authorities and the Phnom Penh Municipal Court work on this case,” he said.

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