Idisi Akpobome, a Nigerian comedian who was scheduled to perform in Phnom Penh this weekend, says he was denied entry to Cambodia on Saturday after refusing to pay a $1,000 bribe to immigration officials at Phnom Penh International Airport.
A senior immigration official confirmed Mr. Akpobome was sent back to Kuala Lumpur on Saturday morning but denied that airport staff asked for a bribe.
Speaking from Malaysia on Sunday, the comedian, better known as Idisi Akpos, said he landed in Phnom Penh at about 10:40 a.m. on Saturday with plans to perform at Meta House that night and at the Redeemed Christian Church of God on Sunday morning.
“Everything happened so fast,” Mr. Akpobome said, explaining that when he landed he was pulled aside and interrogated.
A group of four immigration officials, he said, photocopied his passport and asked him why he was traveling to Cambodia and how much money he was carrying—even escorting him to an ATM to check his bank balance. At one point, he said, they asked him for $1,000 to enter the country.
Mr. Akpobome said he had acquired a three-month visa at the Cambodian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, booked a return ticket for Monday and reserved a hotel room in Phnom Penh for two nights. He said he was traveling with $50 in U.S. bills and about 300 Malaysian ringgit, roughly $75, as well as additional funds on two credit cards.
None of this, however, was good enough for the immigration officials, Mr. Akpobome said, and he decided to fly home rather than pay the $1,000.
“I know the things like that happen,” he said. “But I don’t think what happened was appropriate.”
“They were after the money,” he added.
In addition to performing stand-up, Mr. Akpobome has developed comedic characters including “Prophet Idisi,” a biblical funnyman, and riffs on religious themes in web videos.
Kem Sarin, spokesman for the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, said airport officials would not have demanded $1,000 from Mr. Akpobome “because a visa is only $35.”
A senior immigration official at the airport, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said Mr. Akpobome was sent back to Malaysia on Saturday, but only because he had a mere $50 with him and did not provide a clear reason for his travel. He said the comedian did not tell officials about his scheduled gigs or hotel reservations.
The official also denied the bribery allegation. “He exaggerated. No one demanded $1,000 from him. He had only $50,” he said.
“Some visitors come and cause a lot of problems in our country, like Nigerians,” he added, going on to admit that Nigerians were often subjected to extra scrutiny at the airport.
“We seem to pay a bit more attention when deciding whether to allow them to enter,” he said.
Koledoye Abayomi Olushola, president of the Nigerians in Diaspora Organization in Cambodia, said he was not familiar with Mr. Akpobome’s case but that Nigerians were regularly asked for bribes at the airport.
“It’s a battle we continue to fight every time,” he said.
“We have brought this issue to the attention of the director of immigration,” he said, adding that his entreaties had been met with demands for hard evidence to prove that officials were demanding bribes.