Finance Minister Aun Porn Moniroth has sent the National Bank of Cambodia an order to freeze the bank accounts of four business tycoons for allegedly failing to make good on a number of deals with the state, according to a ministry official and local media.
The Kampuchea Thmey Daily newspaper reported Sunday that Mr. Porn Moniroth’s letter to the bank was dated July 22 and targeted four “oknhas,” an honorific bestowed on those who donate at least $100,000 to the state and promise to direct some of their wealth toward the greater good.
A secretary of state at the ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the four oknhas named in the letter were Ngin Monor, president of Monoratanak Construction; Nong Savuth, president of Sovann Vatanak; Phu Sivkheng, president of Golden Century Import Export; and Suy Sophan, president of Phanimex.
“The banks will freeze their accounts because they owe money to the state,” the secretary of state said. “They have been very late in coming to clear their debts, so their accounts will be frozen.”
The official would not say when the freeze would take effect, how much money the oknhas owed, or for which deals they were in arrears.
According to Kampuchea Thmey, Mr. Monor has not paid off the fees in his land swap with the Phnom Penh municipal government for the Monorom Hotel or with the Ministry of National Defense for a warehouse used to stock medicine. Mr. Savuth, it says, owes the state for a land swap with the Ministry of Fine Arts for its former antiquities department.
Also according to the government-aligned newspaper, Ms. Sivkheng has yet to pay her bills for a land swap with the Ministry of Interior for the Cheychum Nas hotel and swimming pool. Ms. Sophan reportedly still owes the state both for a land swap with the Ministry of Public Works for its equipment department and for an antenna purchased from state television broadcaster TVK in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district.
“Because we couldn’t reach a solution by talking [with the four oknhas], we will freeze their accounts,” the secretary of state said.
Rath Sovanorak, director of the National Bank’s supervision department, confirmed receipt of the finance minister’s order but declined to give details.
“We received the letter last week. The letter will be sent to the respective banks,” he said.
None of the four oknhas could be reached for comment.
In a typical land swap, the government gives a private firm a piece of state property in a prime location in exchange for an undisclosed fee and a replacement building provided by the company on a less valuable site. The government never explains how the private companies are selected for the deals.
Chey San, a Phnom Penh-based fellow with the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific, said the government has failed to put pressure on tardy companies in land swap deals on many occasions.
“It’s a little bit late for the government to take this action [freezing accounts], and it’s a new thing to force people who do not fulfill their responsibilities to the state,” he said. “If the government doesn’t make this a lesson, the private companies will not make the required investments.”
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