The president of Vattanac Properties denied yesterday that her company owns a building site on Phnom Penh’s Sisowath Quay that city officials have said is causing structural damage to a block of French colonial-era buildings housing more than a dozen property and business owners.
Chhun Leang, co-founder and president of Vattanac Bank and president of Vattanac Properties, which are both part of a family-run group of companies, said the construction site between streets 178 and 184 does not belong to her company, but belongs to an individual, whom she did not identify.
“I have said already that I am not the owner of this construction, and it does not belong to the company,” Ms Leang said by telephone. “I did not erect this construction. It belongs to an individual,” she said.
When asked who the property belongs to, Ms Leang said: “You, the journalist, should know more than me about who is the owner.”
Prak Sideth, a representative of Vattanac Properties, who has been present at the building site on Sisowath Quay at least twice to assess the damage, and who attended a meeting last week with the affected property owners at Daun Penh district offices, also claimed yesterday that he was not representing Vattanac.
Mr Sideth said that he was representing the owner of the site, whom he did not identify.
“Who said I was representing the company? I was representing the owner of the construction,” Mr Sideth said by telephone.
“I will sue you for quoting me,” he added.
Daun Penh Deputy District Governor Sok Penhvuth expressed surprise that Vattanac Properties was distancing itself from the project.
“If it is not Vattanac Properties, why didn’t they tell us so at the meeting [last week],” Mr Penhvuth said. “At the meeting, they declared themselves as the representative of the company,” he said.
Who exactly is behind the Sisowath Quay project now seems to be a mystery.
On July 22, a notice signed by Daun Penh district governor Sok Sambath was posted at the Sisowath Quay building site ordering a firm by the name of “Vattanac Company” to stop all work at the site.
That written order by Mr Sambath followed complaints lodged in early July by riverside residents and business owners, housed inside a block of 1920s colonial-era shophouses, who complained that the building work on an adjacent site was causing structural damage to their properties.
Despite those complaints, the work continued at the site, and cracks in the walls and floors of the historic buildings began to widen. Now some of those buildings are uninhabitable, and in danger of collapse.
On July 25, Mr Sideth, of Vattanac Properties, and a woman who also identified herself as a representative of the Vattanac company, attended the meeting in the Daun Penh district offices between district officials and the affected property owners. During the meeting, the woman, who declined to give her name, linked herself to a 38-story tower project in Phnom Penh, which is similar in dimensions to a building currently being erected by Vattanac Properties on Monivong Boulevard. It is the only 38-story construction in Phnom Penh currently.
“When I return, I will recommend to my subordinates to communicate better,” she told the district officials and the affected property and business owners who had gathered to ask about compensation at the Daun Penh district office.
“If you call me next time, I will come as soon as I am free, like I have done with the 38-story building,” she said, according to a Cambodia Daily reporter’s tape recording of the meeting.
District and Ministry of Land Management officials said last week that the excavation work being conducted at the Sisowath Quay site did not have permission from authorities.
Sing Sochara, deputy director of the municipal department of land management, reiterated yesterday that the developer of the site was not granted permission from the municipality when it started building.
“The department has not received the documents and construction plan,” he said. “The construction is illegal,” Mr Sochara said.
“My department has ordered the construction to be stopped since the beginning, but the company has never listened,” he added.
Giorgio Arcasi, the owner of Pop Cafe, an Italian restaurant on the Sisowath Quay block, said it does not matter who exactly the construction site belongs to, just as long as the owner—whomever that may be—pays compensation for any damages and for the properties to be properly renovated.
“I wish this [person] does the right thing and he instructs someone to pay compensation,” Mr Arcasi said. “Let’s see if he does the proper thing and refurbishes the building.”