Ministry Swapped in Deal With Timber Magnate

In yet another land swap deal that will see lucrative state-owned land handed to a private business in exchange for a new building on cheaper land, the Try Pheap Group has built a new headquarters for the Women’s Affairs Ministry in Stung Meanchey commune.

In return, the Try Pheap Group will take over the ministry’s prime location on Norodom Boulevard when the ministry vacates it at the end of this month.

The new Ministry of Women's Affairs building has been constructed by a subcontractor of casino and logging magnate Try Pheap. (Alex Consiglio/The Cambodia Daily)
The new Ministry of Women’s Affairs building has been constructed by a subcontractor of casino and logging magnate Try Pheap. (Alex Consiglio/The Cambodia Daily)

“The reason for our removal is because Try Pheap’s company wants this [ministry] building,” said a Women’s Affairs Ministry official with knowledge of the deal, who asked for anonymity for fear of retribution.

“They have a deal with the government,” the official said. “They’re keeping everything secret.”

Try Pheap Group is headed by the eponymous casino and timber magnate, who already boasts a vast portfolio of mining and economic land concessions across the country. His company’s headquarters is currently located next to the Women’s Affairs Ministry.

Women’s Affairs Minister Ing Kantha Phavi refused to comment Tuesday on the deal.

“It’s not my mandate,” said Ms. Kantha Phavi. “I do not do phone interviews. You will have to call the Ministry of Land Management.” A spokesman for the Ministry of Land Management declined to comment. However, Try Pheap Group administrators confirmed the land swap.

“Our company constructed the new building for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and we will take over the old location after they are removed next month,” said Som Phanny, Try Pheap Group’s administration chief.

Mr. Phanny declined to elaborate on the cost of the project or the value of the land.

Hin Socheat, deputy head of research at the Bonna Realty Group, said Tuesday that commercial property in Daun Penh is worth up to $5,000 to $8,000 per square meter. In Stung Meanchey, commercial property is worth about $1,000 to $1,200 per square meter.

The Women’s Affairs Ministry land swap follows a string of similar deals in the heart of Phnom Penh, which have seen dozens of ministries and state buildings handed to private companies.

The Environment Ministry exchanged its valuable Sihanouk Boulevard location with the Ratana Cooperation and Construction company for a new building in Meanchey district. The new building and land was then returned to the company after ministry staff became angry at having to drive so far from the city center to get to work.

The city’s department of public works and transport swapped its land near Olympic Stadium and moved into a new location built by the Khun Sear Development Group in Russei Keo district’s Chroy Changva peninsula.

And more recently, the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation swapped its Norodom Boulevard headquarters for a new building to be built near the Phnom Penh International Airport.

Although Prime Minister Hun Sen has admonished ministers for swapping land, especially in the case of properties with historical or cultural import, he has also defended the practice. In a 2012 speech, he compared land swapping to horse trading.

“Bringing a horse to exchange for a horse is good policy for the government,” he said at the time. “At the end, a horse is still a horse.”,

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