Angelina Jolie has long been a champion for the impoverished nation of Cambodia, from which she adopted her first son Maddox in 2002. But a new report says the actress may have purchased land in the country to operate a foundation in her son’s name from a former official of the Khmer Rouge, the communist party that committed mass murder in the country in the 1970s.
According to interviews with Cambodian officials and documents obtained by Global Post reporters Douglas Gillison and Phann Ana, Jolie’s associate Mounh Sarath purchased 225 acres for approximately $25,000 from a man named Yim Tith in 2003. The land was for housing for Jolie and staff and other purposes, including a ranger station and an educational center for the locals.
In 2005, when Jolie was granted Cambodian citizenship and allowed to own land herself, she sought to transfer the land into her name.
In 2009, Yim Tith was charged with crimes against humanity by international prosecutors working with the United Nations and the Cambodian government in Phnom Penh, which alleged that he participated in eliminating government officials between 1977 and 1979.
According to the Global Post reports, Yim Tith allegedly had control over an area of Cambodia where 600,000 died as a result of the Khmer Rouge misrule.
“He is wanted for crimes against humanity,” Gillison told Fox411. “His job was to eradicate all the local officials and he oversaw operations of the prisons and execution sites across that part of the country. These were brutal places and things were very bloody. He had effective control over all these crime scenes.”
The Global Post reporters, working with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, spoke with Yem Yorn, chief of Samlot’s Meanchey commune, near where Jolie has her Cambodian base.
He confirmed to the Post that Yim Tith sold the land to Jolie’s intermediaries.
Jolie’s camp did not respond to calls and emails for comment; Gillison said that despite repeated attempts to reach out to the actress for the story, he never heard back from her camp either.
Gillison is not sure Jolie knew of Yim Tith’s crimes when she purchased the land in 2002, but that after the 2009 charges against him, it would have been hard for the actress to be unaware, given how much time she devotes to Cambodia.
“These crimes happened in the 1970s, and it is not clear to me anyone suffered as a result of her actions,” Gillison told Fox411. “While she may have known or should have known this individual is who he is, he had not been charged when this deal went down in 2002, and the charges weren’t brought until 2009.”
Jolie began the Maddox Jolie foundation in 2003 as a community development organization in Cambodia’s Battambang province. According to the foundation’s official website, its goal is “creating peace and stability in all communities by planning and implementing interventions that prevent negative environmental changes. Working with impoverished rural villagers and local governments to alleviate food insecurities and increase access to primary healthcare and education.”
Since the land transaction was made nearly a decade ago, there is little Jolie could do now to make amends for buying the land from a known criminal.