Suy Sophan, Owner of Phanimex, Dead at 62

Suy Sophan, the well-connected owner of Phanimex, has died at the age of 62, reportedly due to illness. Photo: Facebook
  • Phoung Vantha
  • March 29, 2021 10:15 AM

The prominent Cambodian businesswoman famed for violent evictions of low income families has reportedly died at her home in Toul Kork District, Phnom Penh of an undisclosed illness.

PHNOM PENH--Suy Sophan, the well-connected owner of Phanimex, has died at the age of 62, reportedly due to illness.

According to security personnel who guard Sophan’s home in Toul Kork District, Phnom Penh, the prominent businesswoman passed away on the night of March 28 after succumbing to an undisclosed illness.

A traditional ceremony will be held at her children’s home in Chbar Ampov District, Phnom Penh.

For almost 20 years, Phanimex has been synonymous with land disputes in Cambodia. Registered with the Ministry of Commerce in 1995, Phanimex infamously went on to acquire a land-sharing deal in 2003 that saw Sophan’s company awarded 4.6 hectares of land in Prampi Makara District, Phnom Penh as part of a social land concession gifted by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

However, Sophan’s concession consisted of 4.6 hectares of a 14.12-hectare residential project known as Borei Keila, which—at the time—housed 1,776 families.

Phanimex were granted the concession on the grounds that they would develop 10 apartment buildings on 2 hectares of their 4.6-hectare plot. These apartments would house displaced residents and in building them, Phanimex was free to develop the remaining 2.6 hectares as they saw fit. 

By 2010, this had still not happened and that April, Phanimex pulled out of the agreement having completed just eight out of the agreed upon 10 apartment buildings. While the company said at the time that a lack of funding was to blame, the decision—one that was ultimately Sophan’s—left 300 families homeless.

These families began building shelters on the site that Phanimex claimed it had no money to develop homes on, but in January 2012, Phanimex sent in bulldozers to evict the residents. Tear gas, electrified batons and other violent means were employed to clear the land, according to rights activists.

While the violence against the families who had been promised housing continued in frequent clashes with police—a move that observers have since suggested the government’s support of Phanimex—the dispute would not be resolved until November 2015, where just 35 families were allowed to be rehoused on the site of Borei Keila.

Others were offered relocation to the outskirts of Phnom Penh or cash settlements ranging from $3,000 to $5,000.

As recently as November 2018, Sophan sued members of the Borei Keila community who had staged numerous protests outside her home in Toul Kork District.

Believed to have gained notoriety during the 1980s following a series of early-mover land grabs, Sophan’s name and legacy will forever be associated with the violent evictions that have scarred many communities in Cambodia.

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