The Mondulkiri Provincial Court will on December 15 announce a verdict for provincial rural development department director Yon Sarom, who has been sued over his unsubstantiated claims that officials in the province own hundreds of hectares of land there.
Provincial court spokesperson Meas Bros said presiding judge Nhean Sovann announced the decision in the absence of the accused after a two-hour hearing on December 3.
Pen Bonna – rights group Adhoc’s local community empowerment programme officer and one of the plaintiffs – said the case was heard after he and three local community members filed a “complaint of felony or misdemeanour” against Sarom for concealing the identities of public officials who unlawfully grabbed land in the province.
Bonna explained that in 2017, Sarom told a local media outlet he would reveal the identities of officials who owned 500ha to 1,000ha in Mondulkiri if the provincial authorities seize 23ha from him.
Bonna said Sarom threatened to break the news after learning of the provincial authorities’ plan to seize the 23ha which Sarom allegedly grabbed from a community in Sen Monorom town’s Romnea commune in 2017.
“He [Sarom] said so because he was angry with the [relevant authorities] who wanted to reclaim the 23ha from him as state property. He warned that if anyone dared to seize his land, he would break the news as it would be unfair for the authorities to seize his 23ha while other officials in the province owned 500ha to 1,000ha each.
“So, I and community members decided to file this complaint of felony or misdemeanour [committed by a public official],” Bonna said.
Kroeung Tola – a Mondulkiri ethnic minority community representative and also one of the plaintiffs – said he did not file a complaint against Sarom for allegedly grabbing the 23ha of community forest land, but over his claims that officials in the province owned 500ha to 1,000ha.
“Such a court complaint can be filed by anyone. In case an individual knows about an offence but ignores it, we can file a complaint against that individual. In Sarom’s case, he knows that some officials own dozens of hectares, but he turns a blind eye. So, we decided to lodge the complaint against him,” Tola said.
Sen Monorom town governor Hiek Sophan said on December 3 that the 23ha in Sarom’s possession had not yet been seized as state property. He said no local authorities had issued a letter acknowledging Sarom’s ownership of the land.
“Nowadays, Sarom is growing crops on the land. He is relying on the land for his livelihood. The move to seize it or not depends on the court’s verdict,” he said.
Sarom could not be reached for comment.
Under Article 528 of the Criminal Code, any act of a public servant, a soldier or citizen receiving public mandates through an election who fails to file a complain to the court of a felony or misdemeanour, which he or she has known while in office or during the performance of his or her functions, is punishable by an imprisonment from one to three years and a fine of between two and six million riels ($500 and $1,500).