Former hotel manager Kem Chantha appears for questioning about allegedly violating her lease by failing to repair the hotel.
Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
Kem Chantha outside Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday, where she was questioned over the long-running hotel dispute.
THE former manager of the Hotel Renakse appeared Tuesday at Phnom Penh Municipal Court to answer lawyers' accusations that she violated the terms of her lease agreement with the government.
But Kem Chantha, who has leased the former Sothearos Boulevard hotel from the municipality for two decades, denied the claims, saying that the government sold the building out from under her before the lease had expired.
"They are selling the hotel behind my back while I am under contract, and now they are telling me that I have not respected the lease agreement," she said.
"I don't hope that I will get justice, but I want to show the true documents to the officials in the government."
She added that the Hotel Renakse, built in the early 1900s, was a city icon that has been turned into a fenced-in "ghost house" since the government confiscated the property from her last year.
"I always respected the lease, but they are now violating it," she said, adding that she was planning to countersue the government for US$6 million in lost revenue from the hotel's closure and to re-establish her control of the property in line with the contract.
"I would like to demand my right to control the hotel until the end of the contract."
Kem Chantha claims her lease on the 7,000-square-metre Tonle Bassac riverfront property, which has increased in value as city land prices have skyrocketed in recent years, gave her control of the hotel until April 2050.
Khiev Sepphan, a lawyer for the government, said that according to the lease, Kem Chantha had to restore and modernise the building, and that her failure to do so constituted a breach of the contract.
He said that according to the city's Department of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction directive, buildings more than 100 years old that are in poor condition must be closed to prevent hazards to the public.
But Kem Chantha's lawyer, Chong Eav Heng, said that the argument that the hotel was on the verge of collapse was a ruse.
"When they took measures to kick her out of the hotel, it was not falling down," he said. "It is a trick of powerful men."
A notice posted in late September on the hotel's front gate said the property, owned by the Cambodian People's Party, had been sold to Alexan Inc and will be developed to provide housing for government officials.
It also said the government had offered Kem Chantha $200,000 in compensation for the breaking of her lease.
Kem Chantha said that she has sent a letter to Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk and the National Assembly requesting their intervention in her case.