A complex legal battle is brewing over the boat the Naga Resorts casino is occupying.
Lawyers for the boat's owners claim it is being occupied illegally and the boat is
uninsured. They have also described court proceedings they undertook to recover money
owed as ludicrous, and said the court system was destroying foreign investment in
David Chanaiwa, the attorney at DC&A law firm, said his client, Singapore's Unicentral
Corporation, leased the vessel to Malaysian company Punca Rahmat in 1994 to operate
the casino now known as Naga Resorts on the premises, but rent had not been paid
since October 2001. He said the lease expired at the end of that year, and accused
Punca Rahmat of illegally occupying the vessel, which is moored on the Tonle Bassac
in Phnom Penh.
"The boat and the people on it are uninsured and have been since December 31
, and the owner confirmed this," Chanaiwa said. "On behalf of Unicentral,
the owner is not responsible for any injury anywhere on the premises of the boat.
People cannot sue us."
Unicentral obtained a judgment from the Singapore High Court in December 2001 that
ordered Punca Rahmat to return the vessel Singapore Heritage to Unicentral and pay
around US$5 million in damages. In late August, Phnom Penh municipal court judge
Kim Sophorn accepted this judgment and granted a temporary injunction banning Punca
Rahmat from operating the vessel.
On September 23 that decision was overturned by another municipal court judge, Nup
Sophon. Unicentral's lawyers, DC&A, appealed that decision, but Nup Sophon's
ruling was upheld by the Appeal Court on November 15.
"I'm alleging misconduct of Nup Sophon and the president of the municipal court,"
Chanaiwa said, explaining that the element of misconduct was "obvious",
because the Phnom Penh court had not seen the Singapore court's judgment. "We
will re-appeal to the Supreme Court about the decision of the Court of Appeal within
Nup Sophon said such an allegation of misconduct was "up to them". The
complaint, he said, stemmed from dissatisfaction over his ruling, but added his decision
was "a procedure that I have to do. If they disagree, they can complain."
When asked why he overturned Kim Sophorn's decision, Sophon said: "This is the
right of each judge. The decision at the municipal court is only by one judge so
I cannot guarantee that what I did was correct."
Attorney Long Dara, who said he was representing both Punca Rahmat and Naga Resorts,
said Unicentral had refused to appear in court to solve the problem, and that his
clients were ready to do so, "either through the courts or by any means. We
never avoid the law."
When asked whether Punca Rahmat was operating illegally, Dara replied: "I cannot
"But I would like to say that by law, normally when there is a complaint to
the court, the two parties come to the court to solve the problem," he said.
"But since the application of our complaint, the other party didn't come, but
they cry out through the media."
Dara said there was another case lodged by Punca Rahmat in October 2001 asking the
ship's owner to respect the contract, but said Unicentral had not appeared in court
to discuss the case. After Kim Sophorn's ruling, Dara said he had filed another application
to combine the two cases into one, which explained the subsequent ruling by Nup Sophorn.
Dara said he did not know if the vessel was insured.
"I'm only a lawyer defending the case so I don't know everything," he said,
adding that the casino would continue to operate from its current premises.
"The business will go on, until the court finds who is wrong, who is right,"
Chanaiwa expressed frustration at the year-old case and urged the government to implement
judicial reforms. DC&A has also petitioned the Supreme Council of Magistracy
pertaining to Sophon's alleged misconduct.
"As much as we can fight against the legal system in Cambodia, it makes no difference,"
said Chanaiwa. "The government must reform the judicial system."