A cross-cultural concert tour in Cambodia last December has turned into a cross-border fiasco, with artists and labourers maintaining that they have yet to receive thousands of dollars in payment a year after the event.
Called Fondamentus, the two-week contemporary and classical music tour spanned stops in Yangon, Mandalay and Siem Reap on December 5 and 6 last year.
It employed more than 50 performers and contractors, most of whom received partial payment before the Cambodia performance, but who are still owed a total of more than $700,000 in wages, participants said.
The event, which had an operating budget of $1.1 million, was funded by French organisation Khloros Concert and endorsed by UNESCO and the French embassy in Cambodia.
“In the beginning, we thought it was a fantastic occasion, because there was so much support, but later on, it soon became obvious that it was going to be a huge problem,” said Agnes Pyka, artistic director of Des Equilibres ensemble, who are owed $50,000.
“A lot of us are in financial trouble . . . but it’s also a disaster for relations between France and Cambodia.”
The tour coincided with the 20th anniversary of the creation of the International Coordinating Committee for the Safeguarding of Angkor Wat and the 10th anniversary of the designation of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, one of the performing groups, as an Intangible Cultural Heritage as classified by UNESCO.
It was also the first time that the Cambodian government has authorised the use of Angkor Wat’s first floor for any public function.
“We are very upset about this situation,” said Prince Tesso Sisowath, private secretary of Princess Bopha Devi, who heads the Royal Ballet. “This was supposed to be a celebration of Cambodian culture but it has turned for the worse and has left some people bankrupt.”
The Royal Ballet of Cambodia is owed $15,000 for their performance, Sisowath added.
A hotel spokesman also confirmed that the Sofitel’s Siem Reap branch, where the performers and guests stayed over the concert days, was not paid a “significant amount of money”.
Cambodia Film Commission director Sovichea Cheap, who organised the architectural engineering of the performance stage, said he’s had to sell property to shoulder his financial loss.
According to Pyka, a group of at least 15 Cambodian and French contractors and performers have repeatedly contacted Khloros Concert for payments only to be met with silence since January last year.
The group has filed a complaint in the French court and French police are investigating the case.
Khloros Concert director and main festival organiser Odile Perceau, however, said her organisation is a victim as well.
Perceau blamed the lack of payments to the financial embargo on Myanmar, where they first made money transfers, and an investor named Patrice Canonici, who allegedly never delivered the $490,000 earmarked for the concert.
“In April 2014, we discovered during our own investigation that he didn’t have the money,” Perceau said. “We didn’t scam anybody. We are fighting to find new financing.”
She added that Khloros Concert has found a new investor and is currently contacting the workers and relaying why they still have yet to receive their wages.
Canonici did not respond to a request for comment this week.
But what’s even more disheartening, the participants said, is the lack of support from concert partners like UNESCO, the French Embassy and Apsara National Authority.
“We have repeatedly contacted UNESCO and the French Embassy but they don’t want to be involved, even when they’re the ones who connected us with Odile and her group,” Pyka said.
The French Embassy has confirmed its correspondence with the contractors but did not specify if they were helping them obtain the payments.
“[We] did not provide financial nor logistical support for the organisation of the event but only its ‘patronage’,” wrote embassy spokesman Nicolas Baudouin in an email. “Although it was a private initiative, some contractors and partners have later raised their concerns with the Embassy following payment problems they encountered with Khloros concert.”
UNESCO country representative Anne Lemaistre could not be reached, while Apsara spokeswoman Kerya Chau Sun said that Apsara had no financial dealings with Khloros Concert and only offered the location for free.
“I don’t know if those institutions want to do anything to help the private sector and individuals who lost lots of money, but they have a moral responsibility in this project,” Sisowath said.
He added that he has brought the issue to King Norodom Sihamoni’s attention.
“In Cambodia, if a person steals a motorbike, they go to jail, but this person is going around freely. Something must be done about it.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY TAING VIDA AND CHARLES ROLLET