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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Naga casino deal hinged on bribes - MP

Naga casino deal hinged on bribes - MP

casino.jpg
casino.jpg

The Naga still very much afloat near the center of Phnom Penh

BRIBES of US$1 million along with paid vacations for high level officials were behind

the recent flip-flop on the government's long-touted casino closure policy says SRP

MP Son Chhay.

Just days before the official June 30 closure date for Phnom Penh's two legal casinos,

Naga Casino and Holiday Casino, Sok An, Minister of the Council of Ministers, suspended

Naga Casino's shutdown order.

The suspension was in response to a complaint by Naga's Malaysian parent company,

Ariston, filed with the Phnom Penh municipal court. The complaint alleged that the

shutdown order violated a twenty-year contract signed with the government in 1995

This latest bizarre twist in the government's anti-casino crusade flies in the face

of Prime Minister Hun Sen's December 1998 directive that all casinos within a 200

kilometer radius of Phnom Penh be closed.

Government officials such as Phnom Penh's First Deputy Governor, Chea Sophara and

General Khieu Sopheak of the Ministry of Interior have demonized the casinos for

months, blaming them for many of the robberies, murders and suicides occurring in

the capital.

The government's decision raised eyebrows further by excluding Holiday Casino from

the closure suspension, in spite of the fact that Holiday had likewise inked a multi-year

contract with the government.

Chhay claims that the government's sudden policy reversal and its discriminatory

favoring of Naga Casino are easily explained.

"Bribes," Chhay said.

According to Chhay, Sok An's decision to grant a suspension of Naga's closure is

the result of "special treatment" provided to An by an Ariston-linked Malaysian

businessman.

"We believe that Sok An and his family have been paid [off] by Datu Chen Lip

Kong," Chhay told the Post. "I've been told by two reliable sources that

Sok An and his family had been taken to Sabah [Malaysia] last month, all expenses

paid [by Lip Kong]."

When contacted, An referred the Post to his assistant, Khieu Thakvika. Thakvika confirmed

that An and his wife had visited Malaysia last month, but as "the guests of

a Malaysian political party".

"I don't know about [who paid for the trip] because I didn't accompany them,"

Thakvika said. "You should ask somebody else about that."

In addition, Chhay charges that as much as one million US dollars was paid to other

government and judicial officials to secure the closure suspension order for Naga.

"I've been told of this [one million dollar bribe] by people at the highest

levels of the government," Chhay said.

General Khieu Sopheak dismissed Chhay's allegations out of hand. "This accusation

is from some politicians trying to defame the Royal Government," Sopheak told

the Post.

Sopheak added that Chhay's allegations might have arisen from a post-court ruling

"victory dinner" held by Ariston to which Sopheak and other government

officials were invited.

"We only received a small dinner from Naga, so this is not a moral issue."

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