ampil commune, Siem Reap province – A month after the Siem Reap provincial government began relocating its offices to the countryside as part of a massive land swap, details on the company behind the deal are still scant.
As of this week, nine provincial departments including the governor’s office have already moved out to a remote new government complex located 16 km from Siem Reap city, Deputy Provincial Governor Bun Tharith confirmed.
Construction on the entire 42-hectare site is slated to be finished in October, by which time all but one of the provincial government’s 20 administrative offices and departments will have vacated their prime real estate in Siem Reap city and moved out to the complex.
Although a Monday visit to the site revealed progress in construction—roads have been paved, palm trees have been planted, fountains have been turned on—there were still few clues about the mysterious J&R Import, Export and Construction Company, which was awarded the contract to erect roughly 60 new buildings in an apparent “swap” with the provincial government’s valuable downtown offices.
Mr Tharith declined to comment on whether the government had already handed over the vacated offices to J&R.
J&R’s office at the construction site is filled with photographs of company co-owners Lun Sothy; his wife, Seng Dalin; and his mother-in-law, Seng Vuoch Leang, posing with a number of top-level ruling party figures: Prime Minister Hun Sen; his wife, Bun Rany; Cabinet Minister Sok An; and Defense Minister Tea Banh. A framed letter thanked Mr Sothy-who holds the rank of major-general and is a unit chief in the Prime Minister Bodyguard Unit-for a 2007 donation to the premier.
According to J&R’s business registration with the Ministry of Commerce, Mr Sothy is the primary shareholder in the firm, with minority stakes held by Ms Dalin and Ms Vuoch Leang.
Nhem Thara, the construction manager at the swap site in Siem Reap, said on Monday that his boss, Mr Sothy, spends a lot of time traveling. He described Ms Dalin as a “businesswoman” who manages J&R as well as the family’s other business concerns. Mr Thara referred all other questions about the company to Mr Sothy, who could not be reached for comment. Ms Vuoch Leng said yesterday that she was too busy to speak to reporters.
Although the company claims in its registration that it is headquartered in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district, a visit this week turned up that there is no J&R office at the address listed with the ministry. Two buildings do bear that address, but one is a snooker parlor and one houses a grocery company.
General Hing Bunheang, the commander of the Prime Minister Bodyguard Unit, said yesterday that he was aware of Mr Sothy’s business interests, but he did not know anything about the Siem Reap deal.
“His wife and mother-in-law manage that company since Mr Sothy is working,” General Bunheang said. “If he did not have his wife doing business, how could he earn a living?”
Opposition lawmakers have criticized the land swap deal, which was conducted without a transparent bidding process, while local human rights groups have voiced concern that the relocation of government offices 16kms outside the city would make the provincial government less accessible to ordinary citizens.
That problem of accessibility was experienced firsthand this week as vendors from Siem Reap city’s Phsar Luer market said they had difficulty making it to the site to complain about being kicked out of their stalls as part of a campaign to “beautify the market.”
“From the market to the provincial offices each of us spent 5,000 riel for shared trucks or 15,000 riel for moto-taxis because it is so far,” said fruit vendor Khim Sokha. “It is difficult, but we have to do it.”