The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is investigating whether a tycoon has the right to occupy more than 400ha of flooded mangrove forest in the Chrolong community area in Teuk La’ak commune in Preah Sihanouk province’s Prey Nop district.
The investigation follows a series of local media reports alleging that tycoon Hann Khieng, who holds the honorific oknha title, received 28 land titles for the more than 400ha even after the government reclassified it as state-owned private land to be allocated for 26 families in 2017.
Ouch Vutha, director of the Fisheries Department under the agriculture ministry, told The Post on December 15 the ministry had set up a working group to gather documents related to the tycoon’s occupation of the flooded mangrove forest.
“First, I will check the titles to see if they are related to that location and determine whether they affect the mangrove forest. I will also check whether they affect the community. So it is too early for me to comment further on it until the documents are collected and checked first,” he said.
A government sub-decree issued in 2017 announced the deduction of 423.1661ha in Prey Nop district from the protected forestland established in 2002 and the reclassification of it as state-owned private land, the ownership of which was to be granted to 26 families after its division and the assignment of plot numbers.
The same sub-decree does not specify who the 26 families are or whether it was ever divided into plots. The only other detail mentioned in the sub-decree is that another 4.8626ha located in this area was to be kept as state-owned public land.
Oknha Khieng, who stands accused of unlawfully acquiring the more than 400ha, could not be reached for comment.
The Post could not reach provincial Department of Land Management director Cheng Srong for comment.
Provincial hall spokesman Kheang Phearum confirmed to The Post on December 15 that a sub-decree had been issued to grant the more than 400ha to the 26 families. But he was not certain whether Oknha Khieng had obtained possession of the land legally, saying it was possible that he purchased it from the 26 families.
Phearum said the provincial administration’s working group will also collect relevant documents to examine and investigate the allegations.
“We see the sub-decree establishing private ownership for 26 families, but it’s possible that the Oknha bought the land from them later. However, he hasn’t provided any information about this to the provincial administration and normally we would expect someone in his position to do so to avoid accusations like this, so we will investigate,” he said.