The Interior Ministry’s logistics department, located in the southwestern corner of the city block housing the Royal Palace, has been traded to a private company in exchange for a new department and police training school outside Phnom Penh. Phanimex Co Ltd was given a title for the logistics department’s land, situated at the corner of streets 19 and 240, on July 6 by Chhuon Sothy, director of the Municipal Department of Land Management, Urbanization and Construction, according to documents obtained by The Cambodia Daily.
In exchange, Phanimex will build a new logistics department in Meanchey district and a police school on eight hectares of land located along National Road 4.
The logistics department-covering a 14,170-square-meter piece of land-once housed the Royal Palace’s own logistics department and palace guards until the government took over the land in 1979, a palace official said.
“It is not a sale. It is an exchange combined with construction for a new building,” Phanimex Director Suy Sophan said Sunday. “With this land deal I did not make much profit. I do this to help the country,” she said.
The July 6 land swap was based upon an approval letter from the Council of Ministers dated June 1, and followed a site survey by a municipal subcommittee that also recommended the deal.
“The land is being requested and the Council of Ministers has already offered it to Phanimex, and there is no dispute because the land is fenced in,” a subcommittee report recommended. “So we should offer a land title,” the report added.
Suy Sophan said she did not know what she was going to do with the land, but said she has already received offers from potential buyers interested in pieces of the property.
“Some people are asking to buy from me for $200 to $300 per square meter,” Suy Sophan said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said he could not comment Friday and ministry officials could not be reached for comment Sunday.
With this latest deal, Phanimex adds another piece of state property to its portfolio. The company has already made deals for the Phnom Penh Municipal Police headquarters, several plots of Health Ministry land in three Phnom Penh districts, and the Borei Keila squatter community.
One palace official criticized the deal on Sunday.
“This is beyond thought. The Royal Palace just heard of this but did not know anything about it,” the official said on a condition of anonymity.
“This land used to be the logistics department of the palace and housed the palace guard officials,” the official said.
Renowned architect Vann Molyvann confirmed the land once belonged to the Royal Palace.
“This land formerly belonged to the Royal Palace but since 1979, the government has not recognized this land as belonging to the Royal Palace,” he said Sunday.
City Hall’s Chhuon Sothy said the land is worth at least $550 per square meter, which would value the entire site at around $7.9 million.
“I don’t know what she’s going to do with the land but she cannot build any tall buildings up there,” he said Sunday. “The land could be built for an office or for a residence.”
Despite signing off on the land swap, Chhuon Sothy said he was not pleased with the deal. “Buyers just want to buy everything, even the skulls of the dead people,” he said.
Opposition parliamentarian Son Chhay said it was regrettable that the site was traded while a member of the royal family, Prince Norodom Sirivudh, was leading the Ministry of Interior.
“This land should be given back to the Royal Palace because this land used to belong to the Royal Palace,” he said.
Since the beginning of this year, the government has exchanged numerous centrally-located government ministries and other buildings with companies in return for the construction of new buildings on the city’s outskirts.
The practice has come under fire and apparently culminated with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s order on June 13 banning all future sales, transfers or exchanges of state property.
According to the June 13 order, forests, bodies of water, railways, harbors, roads, public parks and gardens, public schools and hospitals, and nature reserves that still have a “public interest” will not be sold, transferred, leased or granted concessions.
In addition, public property that “lose their public interest use” will not be put on the market unless proper laws are in place to monitor their disposal.
The order follows closely with the policies and regulations stipulated in the Land Law, which was passed in 2001.
Since the prime minister’s announcement, however, the government has also finalized a deal with developer Mong Reththy Group. The company announced earlier this month that it will construct a new building to house the Supreme Court, Appeals Court, Phnom Penh Municipal Court and Justice Ministry in exchange for the current buildings.
There was no mention in the premier’s June 13 order of any retroactive action against deals that had been passed prior to the land swap ban, but instead mentions the phrase “from now on” several times.