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Questions raised over land sale at lakeside

Questions raised over land sale at lakeside

Developer Shukaku has sold off close to 1.3 hectares of land at the capital’s controversial Boeung Kak lake site to a Singapore-listed HLH Group company, according to a statement from HLH.

HLH subsidiary D’Lotus Development purchased the land at Boeung Kak in Daun Penh district for $14.9 million on June 19 with the intention to develop the area into a business and shopping centre, the announcement on the Singapore exchange says.

“D’Lotus Development plans to develop [an] office tower, luxury condominiums, and F&B [food and beverage] and retail buildings on the land,” the June 20 SGX statement reads.

Other than filling the lake with sand and clearing residential areas, there has been little development at Boeung Kak since Shukaku took over the site, which has been at the centre of years-long land disputes.

In 2007, City Hall agreed to a $79 million, 99-year lease with Lao Meng Khin, a ruling Cambodian People’s Party senator and owner of Shukaku, to develop 133 hectares at Boeung Kak. Soon after, the company began to fill in the lake and residents were forced to leave with compensation offers that some still protest against today. Rights groups say the development has affected more than 4,000 families.

“In the land-leasing agreement, the company cannot lease or sell the land to a third party,” Chan Soveth, senior officer for rights group Adhoc, said.

“Any company granted an economic land concession cannot hire another company to do the development for them. It is not according to the law.”

Shukaku partnered with Chinese company Erdos Hong Jun Investment in 2010 to form the property development firm Shukaku Erdos, which operated a sales office in Phnom Penh that closed in early 2012.

Its closure fuelled rumours that the development was under threat. Those rumours have continued despite Shukaku advertising for architects and engineers in 2012.

Not long after a decision by the World Bank in 2011 to suspend lending to Cambodia until the land disputes at Boeung Kak were resolved, the government issued a sub-decree granting 12.44 hectares to families with legal ownership remaining at the development.

Rights groups confirmed yesterday that there are still more than 40 families waiting for land titles.

The sale last week has also raised a different set of ownership concerns.

Sia Phearum, secretariat director at rights group the Housing Rights Task Force, said it was possible the land sold to HLH may have come from the area granted to villagers, as Lao Meng Khin’s name has also appeared on titles within that allotment.

“Whether Shukaku sold the land from the 12.44 hectares area mentioned in the subdecree, or [they are] selling part of their leased land from the government, they are breaching the law or the subdecree.”

Longtime activist and Boeung Kak community representative Tep Vanny was another concerned that Meng Khin held plots within the residents’ designated area.

“We asked the government for 12.44 hectares [of] land for the remaining families who were affected by the forced eviction. Lao Meng Khin is not one of the victims, he doesn’t deserve the right to own the . . . land from the 12.44 hectares area while more than 40 families are still have not been given titles.”

Vanny added that even if the land sold was not within the residential area, the company did not have the right to sell the land as it was being leased from the government.

Both HLH and Shukaku declined to comment yesterday, while Phnom Penh Municipality spokesman Long Dimanche said he was not aware of any sale agreement of land at Boeung Kak.

“I have not received any information about this. You should ask Shukaku,” he said.

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