The Apsara Authority on Thursday slammed opposition lawmaker Son Chhay’s claims it has been embezzling money from ticket sales for the Angkor Archaeological Park, accusing him of trying to take “revenge” over a lawsuit he lost.
Mr. Chhay and ruling party lawmaker Cheam Yeap met with Apsara Authority director-general Bun Narith on Monday, after which Mr. Chhay alleged that the authority is massively underreporting and misrepresenting ticket sales.
According to Mr. Chhay, Mr. Narith told him during the meeting that a total of about 2 million tourists would buy a ticket for entry to the temple complex this year “out of about 5 million tourists coming to Cambodia.”
The lawmaker rejected the idea that only 40 percent of tourists visit the Angkor park and also derided claims that 67 percent of those tourists buy the cheaper one-day ticket.
“I told them straight in the face that we cannot accept this and we need a better investigation,” Mr. Chhay said following the meeting.
On Thursday, the Apsara Authority hit back at Mr. Chhay in a statement, accusing him of harboring ill feelings from a land dispute he lost in 2000, as a result of which he was forced to sell a 31,000-square-meter plot of land to the Apsara Authority.
The land was between Siem Reap City and the Angkor Wat complex, and Mr. Chhay and three other families had been holding out against compensation packages they were offered.
“After this official meeting, His Excellency Son Chhay, a CNRP lawmaker, spoke through some media outlets, telling lies about the Apsara Authority’s job performance to the general public,” reads the statement from the Apsara Authority.
“One reason [for the claims] was an aim to take political benefits, and another reason was an aim to take revenge against the Apsara Authority because he once lost a case related to an anarchic land encroachment in the Cultural and Tourism City of Siem Reap province,” it continues.
The Apsara Authority statement says that Mr. Chhay’s claims of 5 million tourist arrivals in Cambodia are overstated, and goes on to defend its figures for ticket sales, explaining that its official figures are reviewed by the government.
“The Apsara Authority would like to completely deny the very wrong comments made by His Excellency Son Chhay and would like to offer the truth—that the estimated figures from the Tourism Ministry show that only 4.5 million international tourists will come to the country in 2014,” it says.
“There were only 1,643,657 international tourists who entered the Angkor Wat park within the first 10 months of 2014, with ticket sales generating $43,387,500 from the above mentioned tourist figure,” the statement explains.
“This figure is the actual figure that was reviewed and verified by the Finance Ministry, which is the institution in charge of the entirety of national expenditure and revenue.”
While the Apsara Authority manages the Angkor Wat temple complex, the private firm Sokimex has been licensed to collect ticket sales. The firm takes a cut of the proceeds before sending the remainder to the national treasury.
The statement also describes Mr. Chhay’s claims that a 26-year, $9 million rental of land in Cultural and Tourism City to various firms, including Sokimex owner Sok Kong’s Sokha Hotel company, was not an illicit transaction.
It asserts that Mr. Chhay’s claims are “merely a fabrication to confuse the national and international public to misunderstand the Apsara Authority as well as the government.”
Mr. Chhay could not be reached Thursday.
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