American oil giant Caltex has opened a new filling station on a piece of Phnom Penh land the Supreme Court nine months ago ordered the company to vacate.
Despite the Saturday opening of the Chamkar Mon district filling station, Caltex Cambodia Ltd’s general manager, John Raeside, said Sunday that the multinational will still seek the court’s approval of its actions.
“We are very concerned because the judiciary still needs to give us the right piece of paper,” he said.
Court officials have charged that Caltex is directly violating the law by continuing to build on the Monivong Boulevard site just south of Mao Tse Tung Boulevard. Raeside said Sunday that Caltex went through with the opening because it believes the government and the King support the company’s protests against the court’s decision.
Raeside maintains that the Supreme Court decision ordering them to hand over the $800,000 piece of land to a Belgian national was flawed, although he said Caltex still “respects” the court.
He said that King Norodom Sihanouk has written a letter to the Ministry of Justice asking the courts to “re-open” the case.
Palace officials could not be contacted about the claim and Ministry of Justice officials said they didn’t know about the letter.
Chea Sim, as acting head of state, on April 6 issued a letter to the Ministry of Justice effectively asking that the court decision be changed. A government lawyer two days later wrote to the municipality and the Ministry of Interior asking them not to enforce the court ruling.
Caltex has more than 20 stations in Cambodia and an investment of $25 million. Raeside has argued that losing the $800,000 Caltex paid for the land would represent a significant setback.
At issue is a Jan 29 Supreme Court decision to dispossess Caltex of the land and sell it to compensate a Belgian national.
The dispute dates back to a 1993 Municipal Court decision in a separate case that awarded the land to Michel Seeger for compensation in a business deal.
Appeals against the 1993 ruling were struck down by the Supreme Court last year.
However, Seeger claims the land was in the meantime sold out from under him and that he was never reimbursed the almost $600,000 the courts allowed.
Caltex bought the land in June 1997. It was the third change of ownership since a poorly documented sale in 1991 voided any subsequent transactions of the land, the Supreme Court ruled.
Caltex has countered that the Municipal Court is at fault for not issuing a lien in 1993 against the land being sold.
(Additional reporting by Rachel Watson)