Kem Chantha, owner of the Renakse Hotel in Phnom Penh’s booming riverside precinct, was on holiday in Thailand when she heard a riverfront building she says she owns near Ponlok Khmer restaurant was demolished by foreign property investment company JSM Indochina on January 18.
The property has a long history of land ownership disputes and an April 3, 2007 Supreme Court decision, which denied Chantha ownership of the land, had been postponed by Prime Minister Hun Sen until Chantha’s case could be heard at the Appeals court.
Hun Sen initially gave permission for the postponement of the decision after Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana wrote to him on behalf of Chantha.
The July 25, 2007 letter outlined the complex history of the dispute and the outcome that had awarded Chantha’s ex-husband, Pok Yuthea, ownership of the Sisowath Quay property.
But a second letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen from Minister Vong Vathana on December 7 effectively canceled the postponement.
This letter asked Hun Sen to confirm that all legal actions of Kem Chantha be completely finished and that the demolition of the building be respected.
Public records show JSM Indochina legally purchased the property from a Chhit Mean on September 13, 2007, but Kem Chantha is convinced only she holds original ownership documents.
“Until today, the original title is in my hand,” Chantha told the Post. “There is another title that exists but it is not real.”
She is also adamant that the April 2007 Supreme court decision to deny her ownership of the property represents serious irregularity in the court process.
“If the law is followed there would be no problem. If it is not, there is trouble for me,” she said.
Sok Sambaths, Daun Penh district governor, said JSM Indochina has the legal right to develop the land because the Supreme Court judgment was final. “The issue was ended,” he said.
Sambaths said that JSM Indochina has not yet drawn up plans for the site, which continues to increase in value.
But the company’s 2007 AIM Admission document outlines detailed plans for the now empty plot. A $4-million, 141-unit serviced apartment building with 1,575 square meters of ground-floor retail space earmarked for the site is estimated to be completed by 2009.
Meanwhile, Kem Chantha continues to fight a case that official documents state is closed.