Culture and Fine Arts Minister Phoeung Sakona said on Thursday that she would investigate allegations by a senior opposition lawmaker that the authority managing the world famous Angkor Archeological Park is extorting villagers and making sweetheart land lease deals.
CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay, deputy chairman of the National Assembly’s economy and finance commission, asked for the probe in a letter sent to the minister a week ago.
In it, he says villagers who have been granted permission by the Apsara Authority to live in designated areas of the park are increasingly being pressured by Apsara employees to leave unless they pay them hundreds of dollars. It also cites a report from Apsara itself that, he claims, says tycoon Sok Kong was sold a 99-year lease to 23 hectares inside the park for $9.66 million.
Contacted on Thursday, Mr. Chhay said that hundreds of park residents had approached the CNRP in the past few weeks to complain of a surge in demands for bribes by Apsara employees to keep their homes.
“We want the minister to explain clearly whether some Apsara Authority officials are really committing crimes like the people claim,” he said. “We recently investigated and found that officials are not implementing the law and that they are really extorting money from local people.”
Mr. Chhay said his research into local property prices also suggested that the land leased to Mr. Kong could be worth up to $300 per square meter, which would bring the price of the entire plot to $69 million, far more than what Mr. Kong reportedly paid. And according to the Apsara report, he added, Mr. Kong was supposed to pay the entire price of the lease up front but has so far delivered only $2 million.
He said he wanted the minister to investigate the claims and press charges.
Ms. Sakona said on Thursday that she had not received the letter, but would open an investigation if and when she did.
“If the case is real, I will use the law to take action against the officials, because we will not allow them to do wrong,” she said.
However, she said she would not be reporting any findings back to the CNRP because of occasional parliamentary boycotts it has staged. The boycotts have been in protest of what the opposition and many rights groups consider the government’s ongoing persecution of its critics, which has included the jailing of several CNRP officials.
Apsara spokesman Long Kosal declined to comment on the allegations, saying he had not seen the letter.