The Air Force Headquarters on Phnom Penh’s Russian Confederation Boulevard has been added to the growing list of state-owned buildings falling into private hands through the murky process of government-sanctioned property swaps,
though military officials were unable Wednesday to say who now owns the spacious property.
Small trucks laden with bricks and masonry rumbled back and forth from what was left of the Air Force Headquarters on Wednes-
day as the new, and as yet unidentified owners, dismantled buildings on the property, which is located on a large plot of land opposite the Royal University of Phnom Penh’s social science faculty.
“To say the word ‘sale’ is out of date,” RCAF Air Force Commander Soeng Samnang explained by telephone.
“There is a principal from the upper levels to ‘swap,’” he said of the deal.
The commander confirmed that the headquarters is now in private hands, but he declined to comment further and referred questions to Minister of Defense Tea Banh.
Contacted by telephone, the minister said that the “swap” took place almost three years ago, though the firm who now owns the site had only recently decided to demolish the former headquarters building.
Mr Banh said he could not re-
member the name of the firm that he swapped the building to, and who had in return built the air force a new headquarters beside the RCAF Battalion 70 Headquarters on Nat-
ional Road 3 in the city’s Dangkao district, several kilometers beyond Phnom Penh International Airport.
The minister said the government didn’t have the capital to build a new headquarters, which is why private firms were required to get involved and received state-owned properties in return.
“Which is why we need to cooperate with private firms to build new office buildings so as to have proper work places,” he said.
“We cannot allow our officials to work in narrow, old building,” he added.
Asked to comment on the apparent secretive process by which unnamed firms get to own state properties, Mr Banh said that such deals were in fact transparent.
“To have land swaps, we always think seriously about transparency,” he maintained.
Ministry of Finance Secretary of State Ouch Rabun, who is responsible for state-owned properties, could not be contacted for comment on Wednesday.
Last week, opposition lawmaker Yim Sovann called on the government to come clean on the so-called “swaps” and to disclose details of the deals as it was confirmed that three buildings, the former Ministry of Labor building on Street 184, the former Ministry of Social Affairs Building on Norodom Boulevard, and a building inside the Ministry of Information were not in private hands.
Commenting on Wednesday, Yim Sovann said that millions of dollars have been lost to the state in such deals, and he alleged that properties being swapped are being traded at less than one third of their actual market values.
“The state has lost hundreds, thousands of millions of dollars,” Yim Sovann said by telephone.
“Individuals have earned a lot of money from such land swaps,” he alleged.
“Sooner or later all the government’s real estate in prime locations will be sold or swapped when we still have these leaders in government.”