Gov’t Officials Stay Quiet About Naga Casino Dispute

Government officials will likely steer clear of a dispute between the group that runs Naga Floating Casino and the Malaysian company that owns the boat, a government official said this week.

Last week, Unicentral, the Singaporean owners of the boat, ordered the Ariston Group to vacate their vessel immediately, citing a lien they plan to file or already have filed in a Singa­porean court. They also threatened to sue for more than $2.2 million owed in back rent, plus unspecified damages, according to a letter dated last week.

Government officials, though, say they have no plans to get involved in the work of the Singaporean court.

“It is an internal affair,’’ Khieu Thavika, an adviser to the Council of Ministers, said Sunday when asked if the Cambodian government would enforce any court decisions in Singapore. “They should settle it themselves.’’

Khieu Thavika added Wednes­day that the contract between government and Ariston was signed, and has been validated.

“As long as Ariston’s contract is not invalidated, casino Naga is still validated too, and able to continue it’s business,’’ he said.

In 1996, Unicentral also filed suit in a Singaporean court to obtain rent money for the ship from the Ariston Group.

But the boat has not moved from its site in the Tonle Sap adjacent to the Hotel Sofitel Cambodiana.

The government has long boasted that the Ariston Group is the largest foreign investor in Cambodia, with projects approved totaling more than $1 billion. However, few of the projects have been implemented.

A Phnom Penh court said last month that Naga has the right to continue operating the casino in the city despite a new ban on casinos because the government inked a 20-year contract with the Malaysian owners in 1995.

Government officials from the Tourism Ministry, the Council of Ministers and the Council for the Development of Cambodia were reluctant to comment about Naga on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Paul Ng, the operations manager for the Naga casino in Phnom Penh, said this week that he still had not heard of the rent problems. And although top Ariston officials were in Phnom Penh visiting from Malaysia this weekend, he said he did not know why, or even that they were here.

When asked Wednesday if Ariston officials visited town for talks with government officials and what they were discussing, Khieu Thavika declined to comment.

(additional reporting by Khuy Sokhoeun)



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