Kampong Speu judge questions self-proclaimed oknha who deceived villagers

A self-proclaimed oknha was interrogated by the Kampong Speu provincial investigating judge after police produced him in court on Saturday for allegedly refusing to give money belonging to villagers who sold their land through him.

Speaking to The Post on Sunday, provincial court deputy prosecutor Ou Phat said an official announcement of the case might be published on Monday.

“I don’t know what decision will be made regarding the case nor do I know the name of the investigating judge, but I know the one who handled the case was deputy prosecutor Khai Samphors,” Phat said.

Khai Samphors, from Kampong Speu provincial court, had issued a summons on February 1.

It “ordered the authorities to bring So Sarim, male, 41, Khmer national, born in Angkrang village, Preah Sre commune, Oudong district, Kampong Speu province to the provincial court before February 21, 2019, in response to the claims of ‘confidence violation’, in Romlech village and Dara village, Preah Sre commune, Oudong district on June 8, 2018”.

Attempts to reach Samphors for additional comments were unsuccessful.

‘Feeling duped’

Kampong Speu provincial deputy police chief Nhem Sao told The Post that upon receiving the summons, his team arrested the suspect on Thursday and sent him to court on Saturday.

The suspect was known by people in their villages as an oknha, which roughly translates to “tycoon”, and a land broker who purchases land from many villagers, he said.

“I just followed the court order. I did not prepare the case nor did I receive a complaint from anybody."

“The suspect owed a lot of money to them [villagers]. They were often promised to be paid on the days he finds convenient,” he said.

Sao said Sarim kept promising the villagers that he would solve their problems immediately. Feeling they have been duped multiple times, the villagers decided to file a complaint at the Kampong Speu provincial court.

The complainants, Sao continued, will attend court on Monday to provide evidence and call for “heavy punishments for Sarim”.

He said the suspect claimed himself as an oknha but never showed the royal-decree, signed by the King, that grants the title.

Kampong Speu provincial police chief, Sam Samuon, said he has been informed of the case but not aware of the details.

He noted that he is still waiting for the official announcement from the court.

“Oknha” is an honorific title that is often conferred on elites in Cambodian society. To receive the coveted title, a request had to be approved by the Council of Ministers, then the prime minister and then signed by the King."

Prior to 2017, a minimum investment of $100,000 was required for a businessperson to be bestowed the “honorific” title, after a new sub-decree was signed on March 20, 2017, the figure increased to $500,000.

According to estimates, at least 700 people held the title in 2017, compared to about five before 1975.