Updated at 8:39 a.m. EST on 2014-12-30
The head of a quasi-government agency overseeing tourist development of Cambodia’s iconic Angkor Wat temple complex defended its reported ticket revenue at the site Monday, saying accusations by an opposition lawmaker that sales were seriously underreported lacked evidence.
Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmaker Son Chhay and ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) lawmaker Cheam Yeap met with Apsara Authority director-general Bun Narith last week, after which Son Chhay alleged that the agency has been misrepresenting ticket sales for the complex.
Bun Narith on Monday hit back at Son Chhay, who is also deputy chairman of the National Assembly’s Banking and Finance Committee, saying the CNRP lawmaker provided no evidence during the meeting that Apsara was generating as much as U.S. $150 million in ticket sales annually at the site.
“Son Chhay is confusing the public,” he told reporters.
Bun Narith said he had provided Son Chhay with tourism statistics at the Angkor Wat complex during their Dec. 22 meeting, which showed that around 1.6 million people visited the site over the last 10 months, generating about U.S. $43 million in ticket sales.
He added that Apsara’s figures are reviewed and approved by Cambodia’s Finance Ministry.
The Apsara Authority manages the Angkor Wat complex, but has contracted private firm Sokha Co. to oversee ticket sales. The company, owned by prominent businessman Sok Kong, takes a percentage of proceeds before sending the remainder to the national treasury.
Son Chhay told reporters after last week’s meeting that Bun Narith claimed a total of roughly 2 million tourists would buy tickets to enter the temple complex out of around 5 million international visitors to Cambodia in 2014, and that the majority would purchase cheaper one-day passes.
He rejected the figures as too low and called for an investigation into ticket sales at Angkor Wat.
On Thursday, Apsara issued a statement saying that Son Chhay’s claims were “untrue” and suggested the opposition lawmaker was seeking revenge for losing a land dispute to the agency in 2000, which forced him to sell it a 31,000-square-meter (333,700-square-foot) plot of land.
Son Chhay and three other families had held out against a compensation package they were offered for the land situated between Siem Reap city and the Angkor Wat temple complex.
The statement also denied Son Chhay’s claims that Apsara’s U.S. $9 million, 26-year lease of land near the complex to various firms, including a hotel company owned by Sok Kong, was illegal.
Created by royal decree in 1995, Apsara Authority falls under the technical supervision of the presidency of the Council of Ministers and the financial supervision of the Ministry of Economy and Finance.
Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, who is also minister for the Office of the Council of Ministers, supervises Apsara Authority.
Kem Sokha, deputy president of the CNRP, had last year accused Apsara Authority of underreporting revenue.
At the time, he said the firm earned about U.S. $200 million from ticket sales to Angkor Wat in 2012, although little of the revenue went to the national budget.
In March 2012, an anonymous group filed a corruption complaint with the country’s Anti-Corruption Unit, accusing Sokimex of siphoning off most of the ticket revenue and calling the contract between the government and the company “irregular,” according to The Phnom Penh Post.
Bun Narith dismissed the allegations as baseless, the report said.
Last month, senior CNRP official Yem Ponhearith—chairman of the Commission on Education, Youth, Sport, Religious Affairs, Culture and Tourism—urged Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism to manage ticketing at Angkor Wat, saying Sokha Co. was “taking advantage” of the government by handling the sales.
Reported by Savyouth Hang for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.