A day after a court order closed the iconic Renakse Hotel, Minister of Cults and Religion Min Khin said Wednesday that the more than 100-year-old French colonial-era building is to be demolished “soon.”
Min Khin, who has handled the CPP’s $3.8 million sale of the hotel to private firm Alexson Inc, which is owned by a daughter of CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin, said by telephone that officials with the municipal land management and construction department had informed him that the building was nearing its end.
“The Renakse Hotel is over 100 years old, and it closed recently and should be destroyed soon,” Min Khin said, adding that the municipal land management and construction department had finished its reports on a four-day building inspection of the hotel conducted last week.
“I do not know when it will be destroyed,” he added.
Late on Tuesday, work had begun on a large, blue, metal fence surrounding the hotel compound, and early Wednesday morning, workers were at the hotel finishing the fence and removing trash and other small items from the grounds.
Though the hotel might be demolished soon, it is still not clear what would be built in the Renakse’s place.
Constitutional Council member Son Soubert said he was concerned that the hotel’s destruction would compromise the architectural integrity of the Royal Palace surroundings. If a tall, modern building replaces the Renakse, it could provide a view of the palace from above and pose a security risk, Son Soubert said.
“For the security of the King, it’s not very good,” he said. “I think it’s up to the Royal Palace to make its feelings known,” he added.
Prince Sisowath Thomico, an adviser to King Norodom Sihamoni, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
The CPP has claimed that the Renakse’s longtime manager Kem Chantha had violated her lease by letting the building deteriorate to near the point of collapse, but Son Soubert—who is also a member of the archeological organization Heritage Watch—said such disrepair was unlikely because buildings from Cambodia’s colonial era were built with thick walls and strong stone. A cursory look around the Renakse also showed that it had been well maintained, professionally renovated and improved in several areas.
Son Soubert also said that it would be “logical” for the CPP to wait until lawsuits filed at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court over the hotel ownership dispute are resolved before pressing ahead with demolition.
“I think it’s a shame. It is part of the architecture of the protectorate era,” Son Soubert said.
“There’s so few left, I don’t understand why the city of Phnom Penh would let this happen,” he added.
Municipal Court Deputy Prosecutor Ek Cheng Hout said Wednesday that, while he was unfamiliar with the specifics of the Renakse dispute, current law suggested that the court should not have ordered the removal of the hotel’s staff, guests and managers while a case is ongoing.
“The court has to issue the injunction to protect the property after it receives the complaint,” Ek Cheng Hout said in reference to the court order that stated the hotel be handed over to municipal officials for “temporary control.”
Kem Chantha’s lawyer, Chong Ing Heng, filed a response to the CPP lawsuit Tuesday, saying the judge who ordered the hotel’s closure, Deputy Director Ke Sakhorn, did not grant Kem Chantha enough notice before being booted from the premises; the complaint also said Ke Sakhorn was biased because his wife is also a niece of the owners of Alexson Inc, the company to which the CPP sold the property.
Ching Sokuntheavy, owner of Alexson Inc, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
(Additional reporting by Adam Becker)