A Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge affirmed Friday that a recent court order allows the CPP to renovate the historic Renakse Hotel and does not exclude demolition of the colonial-era building.
The municipal court issued its third ruling in the Renakse ownership dispute case Thursday upholding two previous decisions, giving the rights to the ruling CPP—which owns the hotel but had leased it to another party—to renovate the building as its sees fit, according to a copy of the injunction order obtained Friday.
“[The latest injunction] doesn’t prevent the demolition,” Judge Ke Sakhorn said Friday by telephone, adding that he had been incorrectly quoted in a media report saying the hotel could not be demolished.
“They have the right [to demolish]. It is their property,” he said.
CPP lawyer Khiev Sepphan confirmed Friday that the ruling party has made a request to rebuild the hotel, but added that he was not feeling well enough to explain the plans in detail.
“The owner has the rights to build something, knock it down, or keep it as whatever; it is their rights,” he said.
The court issued its first injunction in the Renakse case on Jan 5 ordering the closure of the hotel business, removal of all belongings of its former manager, Kem Chantha, and the property’s temporary transfer to the stewardship of Phnom Penh Municipality. The court’s second order on Jan 12 ordered that the CPP’s National Council of the Solidarity Front for the Development of the Cambodian Motherland could renovate the building.
None of the three decisions excluded demolition as an option, Ke Sakhorn said Friday.
The CPP, which last year sold the property to Alexson Inc for $3.8 million, filed a lawsuit on Jan 3 seeking to void Kem Chantha’s 49-year lease to operate the hotel. The court filing claimed that the lease should be annulled as Kem Chantha had failed to maintain the building’s safety and architectural beauty, though it was obvious to visitors that the hotel had been well maintained.
Kem Chantha said Friday that she had received the latest court order Thursday and planned to appeal against it on Monday at the court.
“It is an injustice from beginning to the end,” she said of her treatment by the CPP and in particularly Minister of Cults and Religion Min Khin, who was responsible for the hotel’s sale on behalf of the ruling party.
Kem Chantha has accused Min Khin of breech of contract. She also added that Judge Ke Sakhorn should recuse himself from the case as he is married to the aunt of the owner of Alexson Inc, the firm that now owns the Renakse, as could not be impartial.
“The court is their group,” she said. “I don’t know how they reason,” Kem Chantha added.
Ke Sakhorn confirmed his family connection to Alexson, but maintained that he was not biased.
“I don’t do business with them,” he added.
Min Khin said he was too busy to talk to a reporter Friday.
Thursday’s court injunction, also reveals that the CPP’s lawyer, Khiev Sepphan, has asked the court to quickly decide the transfer of the property from the municipality to the “Front” so that it can “develop this hotel, reconstructing it new without any long delays.”
Ke Sakhorn said the Front’s request to take over the hotel and being work would be decided in a so-far unscheduled court hearing.
Earlier on Friday, Khiev Sepphan said that a new appeal by Kem Chantha would create more delays.
“Now [the injunction] is almost useless because we have to go Appeal Court,” Khiev Sepphan said.