The Ministry of Commerce headquarters, located on a prime stretch of the city’s Norodom Boulevard, has been “swapped” for two new buildings constructed by local firm Attwood Import Export Co Ltd, a Commerce Ministry official confirmed yesterday.
Mom Chandara, director of the Commerce Ministry’s Administration Department, said that the ministry has released an internal order requiring its approximately 700 employees to relocate no later than Friday to the new offices, which are located some 500 meters down a side street off Russian Federation Boulevard about half way to Phnom Penh International Airport.
“It is a land swap, because the upper-level officials understand that the new location will have more space in general,” Mr Chandara said, adding that an official announcement of the swap will be aired on state-run broadcaster TVK to inform the public of the ministry’s new location.
Mr Chandara said he was unaware of future plans for the ministry’s key Norodom Boulevard site, and he did not know details of the deal between the ministry and Attwood.
A woman answering Attwood’s landline who declined to give her name, confirmed that the company had made “a land swap” with the Ministry of Commerce, but added that the firm had subcontracted the construction of the new ministry buildings to a company called LCH. The woman said that she did not know what plans Attwood had for former ministry building.
In 2005, Attwood was awarded the rights to develop one of Cambodia’s first tax-free industrial zones. At that time, Tep Bopha Prasidh, the wife of Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh, reportedly owned a 10-percent stake in Attwood, valued at approximately $1 million. Neither Mrs nor Mr Prasidh could be reached for comment yesterday about the ministry deal.
Dozens of valuable public buildings have been swapped in Phnom Penh and elsewhere in private deals made with no transparency, opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua said yesterday, adding that she found the Commerce Ministry swap particularly troubling because senior government officials had family members who were Attwood shareholders.
“Who is getting interest from this deal?” Ms Sochua asked. “This country belongs to every Cambodian,” she said. “In other countries,” she added, “this is absolutely impossible and never happens when the company has shareholders who are the wives or children of ministers for the ministries [in question].”