HEN Thea van Werkhooven and her partner Steve Holgate decided to accept an
offer to manage a hotel in Phnom Penh, little did they realize the difficulties
they would encounter.
Hired in Singapore by Benquen Trading Group to
manage the Regent Hotel in Toul Kok District they arrived in Cambodia in
January. Now, six months later they are $23,000 out of pocket, their $5,000
Nissan Bluebird is under armed guard at Pochentong Airport and van Werkhooven's
passport has been seized by police.
Van Werkhooven said: "This has been a
nightmare. I'd like other people who are thinking of coming to work in Cambodia
to know what is happening."
Dutch woman Van Werkhooven, accepted a
contract on behalf of her company Special Tours International to run the Regent
for three months and renegotiate the lease on Benquen's behalf. Benquen has
offices in Singapore and Hong Kong and is principally involved in
Using her contacts from a lifetime in the travel and hotel
industry, van Werkhooven said she was quickly able to raise the hotel's
occupancy rate to 60 percent through corporate contracts for overseas customers.
However the couple say they inherited a number of debts, including a
sizable one to the landlord, they knew only as Mr Ang, of around $50,000. The
lease on the 45-room hotel was $18,000 a month.
They say that despite
numerous faxes and phone calls Benquen failed to deliver on promises of cash
injections to clear debts. The company had already invested $500,00 in
renovations after opening last year.
Then things went seriously awry for
the couple in April when the staff of 44 sensed some of the financial worries
after faxes were intercepted.
While the couple were away some of the
staff conspired to steal equipment and stock worth $25,000, including CD
players, the telephone and fax, satellite dish and receiver and all the alcohol
in the bar .
To add injury to insult the following day, when the staff
involved found out they had been dismissed, one woman who had been crying on the
floor stabbed Steve in the leg, inflicting a deep wound.
thefts, Holgate and van Weekhooven decided to persevere. They flew to Singapore
to meet Benquen directors, where they say they received more assurances that
cash would be forwarded to Phnom Penh. An initial payment of $10,000 did arrive,
though that was quickly swallowed by the debts and to pay for new stock and
equipment. The couple say they continued to pay some debts and ran expenses out
of their own pockets.
Though the hotel re-opened, the couple say they
were then caught between the landlord and Benquen in an intractable dispute over
the drawing up of a new lease agreement. Mr Ang demanded that Benquen directors
fly to Phnom Penh to negotiate while they urged him to send a written proposal.
Benquen wanted to reduce the lease to $7,000 a month.
On the morning of
May 21 Ang, without warning said he was retaking control of the hotel and
evicting the couple.
They said that was only the start of their troubles
that day. Angry staff demanding redundancy money refused to let the couple drive
off in their car. The hotel's front gate was padlocked and glass was smashed in
the path. The standoff continued into the evening and was only resolved when
police took van Werk-hooven's passport as security for payment of the
Van Werkhooven said: "They could not understand that we were only
employees ourselves and the payment had to come from Singapore."
the situation has only worsened for the couple. Van Werkhooven said that Benquen
had told her that the owner had no right to shut the hotel. Benquen argued that
since they owed $50,000 the landlord and he possessed $310,000 worth of their
stock and equipment, he was liable for all debts including the money the couple
The couple have now also found themselves in dispute with one
of the Regent's creditors, diesel supplier and four-star police general Chea
The general has decided to take the law into his own hands. When
van Werkhooven parked her car at the airport carpark on June 16 he had the tires
deflated and posted a guard, Not Sarai to prevent it being moved. Sarai wears
the uniform of a police captain.
Van Werkhooven claims Yuan has also
hampered attempts to retrieve her passport.
Standing beside the Bluebird
with its front tires still flat, Yuan told the Post that he felt justified in
what he was doing because Holgate had signed the receipts for the diesel. He
added: "The situation can be solved simply by paying me $1,600."
was reminded that policemen were supposed to uphold the rule of law he replied
"that he's written to the court already". Since then van Wekhooven claims that
$500 worth of goods have been stolen from the boot of the car and two more
guards have arrived.
Yuan has also tried to serve what van Werkhooven
believes to be a court order but she has refused to accept it as she doesn't
The couple say they have made strenuous efforts to get
the authorities to intercede but as the Post went to press neither the car nor
passport had been returned.
Ang could not be reached for comment and
Benquen directors Adam Cheong and Ismail Kadir failed to respond to a list of
questions faxed to their Singapore office.