Cambodia’s minister of culture on Wednesday accused a legal affairs adviser of Second Prime Minister Hun Sen of swindling the government out of $1.25 million in a secret real-estate deal.
The revelation by Culture Minister Nouth Narang came just days after his employees had accused him of selling the ministry’s headquarters and pocketing the proceeds.
At a press conference at Chaktomuk Theater, Nouth Narang said it wasn’t him but the Hun Sen aide, Pol Bun Heng, who tried to sell the building without the ministry’s knowledge.
“We were very shocked when we heard this,” Nouth Narang said, noting the government has canceled the sale and that the prime Monivong Boulevard property will remain state-owned at least for the time being.
Nup Phuong, director-general of the Ministry of Culture, said the ministry will file a lawsuit charging Pol Bun Heng with selling state property and defaming the ministry.
More than 20 ministry employees protested in front of the ministry this week, calling Nouth Narang “corrupt” and writing graffiti on the walls to that effect. Their posters and graffiti still littered the site Wednesday morning.
Muth Khiev, an aide to Hun Sen, confirmed on Wednesday that Pol Bun Heng had made a secret deal with a company identified at the press conference as “Lim Chhin Hour’s firm.”
“It is true that Pol Bun Heng pocketed money from the company,” Muth Khiev said. “He colluded with the firm in making the deal since 1996 without the knowledge of the government.”
Culture Ministry officials said two deposits totaling $1.25 million were paid to Pol Bun Heng, who couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday. An operator said that his phone was outside the service area. Muth Khiev said that Pol Bun Heng is French-Cambodian and left for France before the news was leaked.
Lim Chhin Hour also couldn’t be reached for comment.
Chhuon Sothy, director of Phnom Penh’s land title office, said the municipality approved the ownership change after receiving the Council of Ministers’ initial approval of the change of ownership.
But he noted that the Council of Ministers since has invalidated the sale. “Now it is terminated,” Chhuon Sothy said. He said he didn’t know that the building deal had been kept secret from the government.
The Ministry of Culture is building a new administrative complex on Norodom Boulevard with help from the Japanese government.