A local NGO has petitioned the Ministry of Justice to overturn a Supreme Court ruling
handed down last November in a complex land case involving the Ministry of Planning
Minister of Finance Keat Chhon isnít talking.
The Cambodian National Research Organization (CNRO), which is representing the plaintiff,
alleged that MoP officials might have pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars through
the sale of ministry property in 1998. It demanded that Minister of Finance, Keat
Chhon, account for the money.
Keat Chhon did not respond to CNRO requests to explain where the revenue went and
the Post was unable to contact him. The secretary of state at the finance ministry,
Ouk Rabun, said he could not say off-hand whether or not the money had been paid
to the state, but undertook to "look into the matter".
The dispute arose after construction of the planning ministry's National Institute
of Statistics (NIS) building was completed in September 1999.
The plaintiff, Eng Bunkheang of Lemaster SDN BHD Cambodia, said ministry officials
and two businessmen cut her company out of the complicated property deal after she
had finished building the NIS offices. That had left her $373,000 out of pocket.
"The Ministry of Planning deceived me, because it collaborated with businessman
Heng Tuy to sell the land which already belonged to me," she said. "The
sum of $500,000 should have been paid to the Ministry of Economy and Finance but
they did not pay it to the state. They just kept it and shared it."
Bunkheang's story began in April 1998 when her company agreed to pay one million
dollars in cash and kind to the planning ministry for four plots of land on Phnom
Penh's Monivong Boulevard.
She said that figure included a $100,000 'commission' to ministry officials. Under
the agreement, Lemaster paid a $100,000 deposit and agreed to construct the new NIS
Lemaster then decided to sell all four plots of land to businessman Bun Chan Kreussa
for $1.2 million. But after he paid a deposit, he apparently ran out of money and
then brought in a third party, Heng Tuy, to pay the bulk of the outstanding amount.
Subsequent months saw a series of payments from the two businessmen to Bunkheang,
which she then passed to the MoP as on-payments for the four plots of land. By the
time the NIS building was finished, said Bunkheang, she had paid at least $715,000
to the MoP, and constructed the NIS building.
That was when the problems started. When the final payments to her from the two businessmen
fell due, Tuy produced a $225,000 backdated bill of sale purportedly from the MoP
transferring one of the plots directly to his ownership - a letter that the MoP later
agreed was fake.
At the same time, Kreussa also refused to make the final payments to Lemaster. It
was then that Bunkheang launched legal proceedings to recover the outstanding $373,000
from the two men.
In June 2000 Phnom Penh Municipal Judge Sok Sethamony found against her and ordered
that she pay $20,000 compensation to Heng Tuy for defamation. The Supreme Court upheld
that decision last November.
But Bunkheang, who has since gone into hiding to avoid paying the fine, has vowed
to fight on.
MoP secretary of state, Ou Orhart, said he could not explain what had happened to
"I have nothing to say now. This story is already finished," he told the
Post on April 9. "I don't know where the money went."
However a source at the MoP said officials and private companies, including Lemaster,
had all been party to the plan to profit illegally from the deal.
The episode has highlighted the issue of sales of state-owned land. A leaked US Embassy
report obtained by the Post last year made it clear that corrupt land deals are a
major source of "off-budget" revenue for the government.
"The [Royal Government of Cambodia] owns an estimated 80 percent of Cambodia's
land, and the law requires that proceeds from sales of such land accrue to the budget,"
the report stated.
"However, in the vast majority of cases, government ministries circumvent this
rule by exchanging the land for contributions to other, often unspecified development
or construction projects.
"These transactions are illegal, unmonitored by the [Ministry of Economy and
Finance], and represent an enormous loss of revenue," the US Embassy report