A prominent expatriate businessman and restaurateur has disappeared, leaving behind an angry staff of former employees who claim they are owed more then $11,000.
John Harper, owner of the Paparazzi Restaurant, sought refuge in the office of the Foreign Police on street 154 Jan 15, after a small crowd of employees surrounded his office demanding pay, police say.
“Mr John Harper ran to here and told us that employees surrounded his office and demanded their salaries,” said Ngam Ry, deputy section chief at the office of foreign police. “He worried about his safety, and we had a duty to protect him.”
Harper’s employees soon arrived at the station, and after talks with Harper and his lawyer, the parties agreed to return four days later. Paparazzi was the latest incarnation of the restaurant below the Monsoon dance club. In previous months, it has gone by the name Laurents and the Palms.
But Harper failed to appear at the police station four days later and has not been heard from since, Ngam Ry said. It is unclear if Harper left to obtain funds.
Harper could not be reached for comment. Reached by phone Wednesday, the man believed to be his lawyer said he is no longer representing him and declined to defend him. Police officials say they have not issued a warrant or a summons for questioning since the case is a civil matter. Medhurst says the employees have filed a complaint with the Ministry of Social Affairs, and are consulting a lawyer. Harper is one of Phnom Penh’s most prominent expatriate businessmen. A former distributor for Angkor Beer, he was is former president of the Australian Business Association.
“John Harper acknowledged he owed a lot of money to employees and he agreed to pay them,” Ngam Ry said.
Nick Medhurst, Paparazzi’s chef, found a financial backer recently and reopened the restaurant with the same staff Saturday under the name Our Place. He said he has been told that Harper fled the country.
“Everybody knows he left,” he said, claiming Harper owes others money also. “John was at the police station Saturday and out of the country Monday….We are calling the restaurant Our Place, as opposed to his place.”
Harper has had problems in the past. In 1997, he was arrested, accused of stealing items from a man who owed him money. At the time, his business partners said he did not steal anything and that powerful politicians were behind the arrest.
(Additional reporting by Phann Ana)