NagaCorp and the Ministry of Tourism have fallen into complete disagreement over whether Naga or the government controls 53 hectares of land on Sihanoukville’s Ochateal Beach.
NagaCorp Vice President Michael Nen said Wednesday that Naga parent company Ariston still owns the land, which the Ministry of Tourism said Wednesday it is planning to offer to the highest bidder.
“Ariston still owns the land,” Nen said. “Of course we are thinking of surrendering the land, but no signing ceremony has been done to say that we are surrendering the land to the Ministry of Tourism.”
Tourism Ministry Secretary of State Thong Khon strongly disagreed.
“Ariston owns nothing in Sihnoukville from now on,” he said. “The airport is already handed over to [Societe Concessionnaire des Aeroports], and the Ochateal beach property is owned by my ministry.”
Ariston took possession of the beachfront property currently occupied by food stalls as part of the package agreement that permitted it to build the only casino in Phnom Penh.
Nen said that the agreement never included an obligation to develop the projects in order to be able to build the casino.
Several years ago, Ariston signed away its rights to build a power plant in Sihanoukville.
The company has “unofficially” surrendered its project of a Naga Island casino on Koh Pos, and last month gave up its project to rebuild the Sihanoukville Airport, Nen said Wednesday.
Although Naga Casino is earning less than expected and a failed listing on the Singapore stock exchange has limited some expansion plans, Nen denied allegations that Naga has run out of capital.
Just before a July signing ceremony at the Council for the Development of Cambodia to give up the land on the beach, Ariston balked, according to Nen.
Government official said at the time that the deal fell through over fears Naga would no longer feel obligated to pay back taxes it owes.
Nen acknowledged Wednesday that Naga does owe the Finance Ministry money, but he denied that it is $10 million. He said that the matter is “settled.”
He also said he does not know the identity of third parties wanting the land on the beach.
Thong Khon said his information comes from Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“[Hun Sen] told us…that Ariston has cancelled the contract so that is why Ariston has not come to sign…that land is state public property, and we will put it up for public bidding,” Nen said.
Businessman Kong Triv, who has significant plans for the area, on Wednesday denied that he was the third party seeking the land, and added that he is not interested in bidding for it.