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Malaysians snare Naga casino deal

Malaysians snare Naga casino deal

T HE presence of the cruise liner "Heritage" on the Tonle Sap since Dec 3 was a sign that the Cambodian government had made a rapid decision as to the successful tenderer of the Naga Island casino - the single biggest investment ever in Cambodia.

Under the terms of the tender, the preferred bidder is given the right to operate a floating casino in Phnom Penh while the multi-million dollar Naga island resort off Sihanoukville is being built, which could be in two years or more.

The Naga Island tender closed on Nov 21; and Tourism Minister Veng Sereyvuth announced that Malaysian company Ariston had won the tender on Dec 9.

Ariston is an affiliate of the Malaysian FACB Bhd group headed by Dato Dr Chen Lip Keong, who has extensive business interests both in Cambodia and elsewhere in Asia. Some reports put those interests as high as $2.3 billion. Dr Chen also owns the Cambodia Times and the "Scratch and Win" lottery which was set up before the elections. The lottery closed after several months but plans have recently been announced to re-open it.

The deal will include the complete redevelopment of Sihanoukville, including an international airport.

The Post understands that an extensive refurbishment of the floating "Heritage" casino is now underway and will be completed early in the new year.

Sources say the interior will be lush, including bars and restaurants serviced by the Sofitel Cambodiana.

Though the Post was unable to contact Mr Sereyvuth to comment further on the proposal, he said in a statement: "Ariston has submitted a very interesting proposal involving the development of two casino resort islands, a floating casino, Sihanoukville international airport and extensive other infrastructure."

A formal agreement will be signed by Jan 31, 1995.

Three other short-listed bidders lucked out during the tender: Malaysia's Landmarks; Singapore shipping and property group Unicentral and Hyatt International.

It had been reported before the Nov 21 deadline that among interested groups were Australia's Jupiter casino and a group put together by Macau gambling and property magnate Stanley Ho. It is not known if those groups finally bid.

Mr Sereyvuth said Hyatt pulled out of its billion-dollar proposal after an extension of time for them to finalise plans could not be granted. It is the first time in Asia a casino project has been tendered.

The Royal government engaged four international consultants to help analyse the tenders. Accountants Arthur Anderson are a leading financial and operational gaming adviser; law firm Corrs Chambers are international gaming regulators; builders Acer Wargon Chapman have experience in big Asian developments including other casinos; and Lewis & Partners are an international property marketing firm.

The casino will have an eight-year tax exemption, and will pay nine percent thereafter. Gamblers will not be taxed on winnings and junket organisers who bring in "hig-roller" gamblers will also have tax exemptions.

The Tumnup II park is planned to the south of the Cambodiana along the riverbank. A busy community has built up on the waterfront and community groups say they have all been told to relocate.

The community is understood to be willing to move and proposed to the two Prime Ministers the Boueng Prayab site near Toul Kork.

An eviction notice had been served on Nov 25, and on Dec 12 police came and told them to remove their houses "or police would do it for them," one source said.

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