A former representative of more than 160 families stripped of their land has been taken to court on “breach of trust” and “false declaration” charges by the very people she once advocated for, some of whom now claim she kept the land titles for herself.
In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Chea Sarom and the villagers she represented, knocking back the ownership claims of businesswoman Keo Neam on land in Phnom Penh Thmey commune in the capital’s Sen Sok district.
But in that decision’s wake, Sarom has refused to return the land to the families, according to three new representatives for the Rong Chak village community, who alleged Sarom faked a list of 163 names and thumbprints.
At municipal court yesterday, Sarom denied she faked the names and said she had never even met some of the witnesses who testified against her.
“They never gave me the right to represent them,” she said.
She also denied allegations that she sold the community land to other people while awaiting the court ruling. That was contradicted by witness Sea Eng, who told the court she paid $6,000 to purchase two plots of land from Sarom in 2008, which she never received. Sarom claimed not to know Eng.
Koy Vuthy, a witness representing the commune authority, said both parties had two very different lists of the 163 families.
“Both have their own lists. Some names are the same, some are different. After they split, they just added names on each side. They said in court that they did not know each other, but in reality everyone knows everyone,” he said.
The hearings will continue at a later date.