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Church leader accused of illegal land sales

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The Christian church in Mondulkiri at the centre of a dispute over an alleged illegal sale on May 15. SUPPLIED

Church leader accused of illegal land sales

A Christian orphanage community in Mondulkiri province has accused its top leader of “stealing” communal property for personal gain, leaving orphans and the poor – most of them Bunong indigenous people – without shelter and making them “lose faith in Jesus Christ”.

Path Yoshe, 27, director of the Chamka Te Baptist Centre in Mondulkiri – part of the Cambodian Foursquare Fellowship (CFF) – said they were shocked by the news that Sum Mantha – country director of the CFF who also serves as head of its Foursquare Children of Promise, which manages orphanages in Cambodia – sold land and churches in the province.

The land was the common property of the Christian church, but he “appears to have sold it as if it were his private property”, with no regard for the wellbeing of the orphans, widows, and elderly that the church supported.

“In March, she sold church land in Chamkar Te village of Sen Monorom town’s Spean Meanchey commune to two individuals named Duke Piseth and Loy Chhay without informing us. It was not just the church, but also the cemetery.

“We found out about the sale after the buyers told us to clear out the church – and remove the bodies buried in the cemetery – because they had already bought the land for $230,000,” he told The Post.

Touch Sinoeun, 46 – a pastor at Chamka Te Baptist Centre and regional director of the CFF’s Foursquare Children of Promise for Mondulkiri province – told The Post that Mantha and her American husband Ted Olbrich once sold 4ha of church land in Laoka village of Sen Monorom town’s Sokdum commune.

He added that they were currently advertising the sale of churches in the province’s Keo Seima, Koh Nhek and Pech Chreada districts.

“This land and these churches are the common property of the Christian community in Cambodia. The purchase of the land and the construction of the churches and orphanages was due to generous donations from local and foreign philanthropists, which means that no one can sell them,” he said.

He described Mantha and her husband’s actions as “dishonest” and a betrayal of the good will of the philanthropists and donors. It also betrayed the poorest segment of the community, as the donations were intended to fulfill Christ’s message and help the needy, he added.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The orphanage inolved in the disputed sale in Mondulkiri province on May 15. SUPPLIED

“The actions of Mantha and her husband are fraudulent acts that affect the Christian faith in general,” he said.

According to Sinoeun, in 2018 Mantha and her husband sold 2,738sqm of church land in Preah Sihanouk province for nearly $3 million.

He added that they also appear to be advertising valuable church land in Preah Vihear and Siem Reap provinces.

Upon hearing this, Sinoeun – and representatives of several other fellowships in Mondulkiri – filed a May 13 complaint to provincial authorities and respectfully asked Prime Minister Hun Sen to intervene, return the land and churches to the Christian community and stop the couple’s activities. The complaint was recently viewed by The Post.

The Christian community in Mondulkiri province accused Mantha of being a “swindler” who mobilised funds from local and foreign philanthropists to buy land to build centres and churches across Cambodia.

The land is the common property of the church community, and should only be used to support the spread of the pure word of Jesus Christ and the continuation of God’s mission of helping the needy, he said. After receiving financial support for the purchase of the land and the construction of buildings, Mantha transferred all of the title deeds to herself, claiming she did so “to keep it forever and help the community”, said the complaint.

“After receiving the deeds, Mantha and her husband sold some of the land and churches to the private sector, leaving millions of dollars in their own pockets and orphans and homeless people homeless. Cemeteries and corpses are facing eviction too,” it added.

Mantha and her husband could not be reached for comment on May 18, as they had traveled to the US to attend a major religious meeting on May 24, according to a pastor who asked not to be named.

According to a video – obtained by The Post on May 18 – church leaders set up a committee named “Cambodian Foursquare Fellowship Real Estate Management” to approve the sale of collective property of the organization, as described by Olbrich, in the video clip.

“All real estate sales must be approved by the management committee by a two-thirds majority vote,” he said.

Sinoeun claimed that when the committee was formed, those at the provincial level were not included. Only Phnom Penh members were selected, and there had been no consultation with provincial members or any form of reporting on the committees decisions.

“When he created the committee or decided to sell off church assets, they did not consult with us. No representatives of the provincial fellowships were made part of the committee,” he said.

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