An environmental protection NGO is preparing to file a lawsuit with the Kampong Speu provincial court and a complaint with the Anti-Corruption Unit against an Agriculture Department official who was allegedly paid by a development firm to issue land titles to villagers squatting on state land so the firm could then “legally” purchase the land from them.
Chea Hean, director of the Natural Resource and Wildlife Preservation Organisation, said he had found evidence that 210 families had illegally cleared 1,228 hectares of state forest in Thpong district’s Ya Ang commune over the past few years.
After claiming the public land for themselves in 2012, they then sold the land to private firm Sun Sen Development earlier this year, Hean said.
“The villagers held the land illegally, so in order to buy and sell the land legally, the company spent $115,000, paying Che Pich, the deputy chief of the provincial agriculture department, to produce land titles for the villagers,” he said.
The villagers then agreed to sell their newly titled land to the company for $450 a hectare, Hean added.
Pich denied yesterday that he had accepted bribes to produce land titles for the villagers.
However, contracts obtained by the Post show that Pich received four payments from company representative Yem Him between July and October 2013, totalling $73,300. The contracts, signed and thumb-printed by Pich, state that he will return the money if he fails to help the company secure the land.
A separate contract obtained by the Post and dated July 17, 2013, shows a broker representing the villagers agreeing to sell the land to the company for $155,000.
Sun Sen Development could not be reached for comment yesterday.