Nearly 1 Million Hectares of State Land Privatized in Half Year


Around 951,213 hectares of state land was reclassified in six months of Royal Gazette documents last year, with the bulk going to unexplained “community zones” and the remainder parceled out mostly to politically connected businesses and individuals as well as state institutions.

The second half of 2022’s gazette — books 49 through 96 — showed 43 locations turned from state public to state private land in 14 provinces via sub-decrees signed by former Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Provinces with land reclassification

  • Battambang
  • Kampong Chhnang
  • Kampong Speu
  • Kampot
  • Kandal
  • Kep
  • Monodulkiri
  • Phnom Penh
  • Preah Sihanouk
  • Ratanakiri
  • Siem Reap
  • Svay Rieng
  • Takeo
  • Tbong Khmum

The largest reclassification was 933,577 hectares allocated for community zones, though the sub-decree gave little detail on what those are. Some previous large land privatizations for communities, such as 127,000 hectares in Koh Kong in 2021, were ostensibly earmarked for local families, but residents were skeptical after having experienced years of conflict with developers and plantations. The allocations likely follow former Prime Minister Hun Sen’s call for families to receive land in protected areas in 2019 amid long-standing struggles around land titles.

Meanwhile, businesses and developers received around 12,460 hectares in seven locations, the next largest category of land privatizations during the period. Most of that went to tycoon Sok Kong’s Sokha Hotel company, with 11,177 hectares of land transferred to him on Kampot’s Bokor mountain. Sok Kong has been developing Bokor mountain for decades, and appears to have previously received access to tens of thousands of hectares via leases and land grants. He has been accused of housing human-trafficking scam operations on the mountain.

The ‘One’ Group

Sells Bottled Water, Instant Noodles and Real Estate

  • Den-Dey Eco-Tour
    Choeung Theanseng (chair), Choeung Theankeat (director)
    Received 85.7 hectares in Kirirom National Park
  • One Fraternity
    Choeung Sokuntheavy (chair), Im Paulika (director)
    Received 649 hectares in Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary
  • One More
    Choeung Sokuntheavy (chair), Lau Jia Hao (director), Lau Jia Zhen (director)
    Received 29 hectares in Kep
  • One Prosperity
    Choeung Sokuntheavy (chair), Choeung Theankeat (director), Choeung Theanseng (director), Im Paulika (director), Lau Sok Huy (director)
    Received 220 hectares in Mondulkiri’s Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary and a biodiversity corridor

Other plots handed to businesses are in Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary, Kirirom National Park, Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary, a Mondulkiri biodiversity corridor and in Kep. Kep saw many changes including resizing the seashore area and parceling out land around the national park. Five plots were privatized in Kep, though with few details about any of their plans.

The companies that received the land have close ties to government officials. One group of companies — One Fraternity, One More and One Prosperity, as well as Den-Dey Eco-Tour — received 984 hectares in Keo Seima, Kirirom, Phnom Oral, Kep and the Mondulkiri biodiversity corridor. The companies are directed by Im Paulika, who is the wife of Deputy Prime Minister Aun Pornmoniroth, as well as six family members of Senator Lau Meng Khin and his wife Choeung Sopheap, a notorious tycoon also known as Yeay Phu.

The family members, spread across the four companies, are Lau Jia Zhen, Lau Jia Hao, Lau Sok Huy, Choeung Thean Keat, Choeung Thean Seng and Choeung Sokuntheavy. Lau Jia Zhen is also married to Aun Pornmoniroth’s son.

Three of the five plots transferred to the group of companies — one in Kirirom, another in Keo Seima and the third in a Mondulkiri biodiversity corridor — did not have coordinates included in the sub-decrees.

Some 266 hectares in Svay Rieng were also privatized for the Svay Rieng Giga Resource SEZ.

Individuals Versus Families

Individuals — such as Prime Minister Hun Manet’s mother-in-law Mok Poponrith, Tourism Minister Sok Soken’s mother Theng Ay Annie, and others — received 16 plots around the country, including nine at Phnom Penh’s controversial Boeng Tamok lake. These were relatively large, averaging more than 10 hectares each, and stood in contrast to less than 0.01 hectares given to each of 35 local families in a concession in Svay Rieng.

The nine locations at Boeng Tamok totaled 111.25 hectares between August and November 2022, and come as part of the filling in of one of Phnom Penh’s last lakes for development by politically connected businesspeople. Local residents have been protesting their evictions on the dwindling lake shore.

Also among the land privatizations are two locations in Siem Reap given to Apsara Authority for housing evictees from the Angkor Archaeological Park. The two locations, Peak Snaeng and Run Ta Ek, are about 20 km away from the Unesco heritage site, and total 1,492 hectares.

Finally, in Ratanakiri, 590 hectares of land was given to a Jarai indigenous community in a document dated October 26, 2022, taken from forest cover and a former economic land concession to the 7 Makara Phary company.

Angkor relocationPeak Snaeng21,410.7
Run Ta Ek181.5
BusinessBiodiversity Corridor1150
Keo Seima Wildlife170
Kirirom Nationak Park185.72
Monivong National Park(Bokor)111,177
Phnom Oral Wildlife1649
Svay Rieng Giga Resource SEZ1266
Community zonesCountrywide1933,577
Svay Rieng (35 families)10.351
GovernmentBattambang forest11.83
Kandal forest1288.65
Kampong Speu144.58
Phnom Penh332.7
Ream National Park2490.7
Indigenous landRatanakiri forest cover & ELC1590
Boeng Tamok9111.25
Preah Sihanouk forest216.14
Tbong Khumum115
ParkPhnom Tamao12,025