The End of the Era of the Lawless Tycoons

A tycoon and his bodyguards were arrested last week over the land business conflict with about 300 families. Photo: Human Resource Planning Office of Phnom Penh Municipal Police / Facebook

The arrest over the last week of the “tycoon” suspected of fraud of up to $100 millions at the expense of thousands of families as well as those of his bodyguards who did not hesitate to attack police officers to prevent them from walking in the company’s head office, deserves to be mentioned.

First, a word about this title of “tycoon” with which some businessmen are saddled as if it was an actual title or proof that these people are, because of their success, superior to the average person who must show deference toward them and, especially, put absolute trust in them in the field of business.

A self-respecting tycoon must have the attributes of the position: a glitzy example of his wealth—big car, a house the size of a castle—and of his power proportional to the number of this bodyguards. And they are there “to protect him,” proof that he owns goods that some would like to steal from him.

Some of them start small, without bodyguards and in a small boutique or modest office and, with the help of their business acumen, make a fortune and, progressively, enjoy all the attributes mentioned earlier. There is not much more to say about such a path.       

But others proceed the other way around. They have nothing but audacity, and no scruples. They start by playing tycoons—big house, big car, and bodyguards—to impose trust and respect and, based on this sole capital, manage to extort money from thousands of people to set up businesses supposedly profitable, especially in the field of real estate. Which, if this succeeds, will really make them tycoons.

Some of them are in-between. They have succeeded “a little” in business and, building on this success, decide to shift gear with these feelings of infallibility and impunity that very often go to the head of people like that.     

In the 1990s, tycoons with few scruples were benefitting in the country of an ideal hunting ground with a large portion of the population in dire straits, hardly aware of their rights, easy to impress if not to intimidate, and the authorities often, let’s say, accommodating.    

Without predicting the judicial follow-up that will come after the arrest of the said “tycoon,” who risks two to five years of imprisonment for fraud with aggravating circumstances, this case may make one think that dealings such as those of which he is accused might become more risky to commit for their authors. 

What is the mechanism of these dealings: One introduces a colossal investment project with a rate of return as colossal; one convinces thousands of families to invest their savings or, most often, to borrow from the bank, promising them substantial monthly interest payments; and that’s how one raises millions of dollars.    

The problem arises for the tycoon when, with or without premeditation, families don’t see any of the promised monthly payments materialize as the banks where they have borrowed the money to invest in the tycoon’s venture are asking to be reimbursed.

There was a time when those families would have resigned themselves and given up in view of the believed power of the tycoon and his supporters. Not today. People get organized, they jointly file complaints, without an NGO defending rights in similar cases getting involved.      

This is no longer “little farmers” that can be led by the nose or can be intimidated by a bunch of bodyguards: These are, in a manner of speaking, investors even if modest ones who communicate among themselves and have no intention of being fleeced in silence.   

A similar case in April 2023 had led to the arrest of an “oknha” in Kampot province following the massive rallying of his victims.

Like the oknha, the tycoon will experience jail.    

Really, sheeps are not as easy to fleece anymore.

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