The Cambodian government on Tuesday decided to reject a proposal from casino corporation NagaCorp to build a $350 million resort just outside Siem Reap province’s Angkor Archaeological Park.
NagaCorp, which runs the NagaWorld casino in Phnom Penh, announced in November that it had been leased a 75-hectare plot of land to develop the “Angkor Lake of Wonder,” under an “agreement” with the APSARA National Authority, a government body with oversight on the temple park.
The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts on Tuesday released a statement where it rejected the proposal, adding that it shared the views of the intergovernmental International Coordinating Committee of Angkor (ICC-Angkor) body.
“[The Ministry] shares the views of the ICC-Angkor and its ad-hoc experts that the proposed ‘Angkor Lake of Wonder’ project put forward by the Naga Group cannot be implemented in this context,” the statement reads.
In late January, ICC-Angkor clearly stated that it was against the proposal to build the “Angkor Lake of Wonder,” according to UNESCO. The UN’s cultural organization said the proposed resort would have an “impact on the outstanding universal value” of the temple complex as a world heritage site.
Funded by a yet-to-be-named Chinese state-owned enterprise, the NagaCorp project included a 500-room luxury hotel, a “China Town”, and artificial gardens and waterways – all constructed less than a kilometer from the Angkor park.
Culture Ministry Secretary of State Sum Map confirmed the termination of the project and said the ministry agreed with the assessment of ICC-Angkor and its experts, who were concerned about the project’s scale and proximity to the archaeological complex.
“There is nothing wrong with the project but its large scale. On the one side, it [Angkor Archaeological Park] is tranquil, and on another side, [the project] seems enormous and bustling,” he said. “They are running in contrast to each other.”
Map did not answer questions about whether the government had leased NagaCorp 75 hectares of land just outside the temple complex.
Sardar Umar Alam, UNESCO’s representative in Cambodia, welcomed the Cambodian government’s decision and said it was important to protect the park’s “outstanding universal value.”
“UNESCO highly appreciates that the Cambodian authorities remain fully committed to the implementation of the World Heritage Convention and will ensure that the protection of the outstanding universal value of Angkor remains at the heart of the decision-making processes relating to the property and its surroundings,” Alam said in an email.
NagaCorp did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
The group’s founder, Chen Lip Keong, with a net worth of $4.5 billion, is ranked by Forbes magazine as Malaysia’s fourth-richest billionaire. He became a naturalized Cambodian citizen late last year, allowing him to own property. Foreigners are not allowed to own land in Cambodia.
Telephone messages leaked to the Cambodia Daily and the Phnom Penh Post in 2017 purportedly indicate Chen’s close relationship with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s family and the pro-government newspaper Khmer Times.