Firm Starts Work on $472M Cambodian Resort

SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia — A Russian company broke ground Saturday on a $472 million island resort along Cambodia's southwest coast, despite one of its partners being jailed in the country for alleged sex crimes.

Prime Minister Hun Sen presided over a ceremony marking the start of work on a 900-meter bridge that will link Koh Puos — Snake Island — with a coastal beach in Sihanoukville.

Cambodia's government signed a deal with Koh Puos Investment Group in 2006 allowing it to develop and manage resorts on the island for 99 years.

The company is run by a group of Russian businessmen, its web site says.

Alexey Chepa, an executive at the company, said at the groundbreaking ceremony that the total project represented a $472 million investment, a substantial increase from the $300 million originally announced in 2006. He did not give details of the project but said the investment would create up to 25,000 jobs.

One of the group's partners, Alexander Trofimov, was sentenced in March by a Cambodian court to 13 years in prison on charges of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl.

Trofimov was arrested in October over allegations that he had abused as many as 19 girls since 2005, but was charged only in the case of the 14-year-old. He has denied the accusations.

Cambodian Transport Minister Sun Chanthol said the bridge would cost around $31.3 million and be completed at the end of 2010. He said it would help develop Koh Puos "into a world-class resort."

Son Chhay, an opposition lawmaker, criticized the government for pressing ahead with the project instead of taking time to investigate the company's background.

"The government must be more open on how they struck the deal with the Russians," said Son Chhay, of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.

The new resort is part of impoverished Cambodia's efforts to promote the country's beaches as a new tourist destination and a key source of cash, following the success it has had in drawing visitors to its famed Angkor temples.

Sihanoukville is 185 kilometers southwest of the capital, Phnom Penh.