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Government Cancels Siem Reap Port Project Held By Immigration Official

Boats for taking tourists to nearby Tonle Sap lake anchor inside Sou Jing Company development site in Siem Reap province, August 11, 2021. (Photo provided by So Rosa)

Prime Minister Hun Sen has canceled a tourism port development concession in Siem Reap province purportedly over a $1 million tax issue, a tax bill contested by the concessionaire who also works for the government.

The prime minister issued the directive in July and put the Chong Kneas port in Siem Reap and along the Tonle Sap lake back in state possession over a disputed tax bill. The concession is held by Sou Jing Port Investment and is owned by Var Chhou Da. He is also a deputy general director at the General Department of Immigration.

“All the property and infrastructures at the investment site in Chong Kneas commune, Siem Reap city are deemed as state-owned property,” the government directive reads.

A commission has been set up, according to the document, and led by the Finance Ministry to deal with the company’s debt and outstanding payments.

Ly Samrith, deputy governor and spokesperson of Siem Reap province, confirmed the government’s decision but did not comment on why the concession had been canceled.

“It is related to tax issues like debt tax,” he said, directing queries to government spokesperson Phay Siphan.

Phay Siphan too declined to comment and referred questions to Ek Tha, a spokesperson at the office of the Council of Ministers, who declined to comment and referred the question back to Phay Siphan.

Va Chhou Da said he had protested the tax calculations used by an audit authority, which had ascertained that he had $1 million in outstanding debt tax payments.

“I protested. I haven’t taken any income for port service. So, it means that I haven’t done any business yet. I am still constructing [the project],” he said.

“Whether it is $1 million or $2 million, I will pay if it is [legally] correct,” he added.

He had asked the Economy and Finance Ministry to give his company approval to start charging for port services, but the ministry never gave him the relevant documents, Va Chhou Da said.

“If the tax calculation is right, I dare to pay. Who wants to lose the project? I have tried to develop the place,” he said.

Pech Pisey, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, pushed for a fair and transparent investigation into the case.

“It requires an independent and transparent investigation to ensure that there is no power abuse in shutting down the company’s [concession],” he said.

If not dealt with fairly and as per the law, Pech Pisey said such a case can affect Cambodia’s investment environment and credibility.

Sours Narin, a provincial monitor at local rights group Adhoc, said several villagers in 2007 had complained about the company’s development affecting their farming land, adding that the company had developed a large portion of the site.

“He has spent a lot of money, not little. So, I think the company will not agree [with the decision],” he said.