The Malaysian billionaire owner of the NagaWorld casinos received Cambodian citizenship in October, according to official documents, opening an opportunity for the tycoon to become a sole owner of land in the country.
Chen Lip Keong, who founded NagaWorld’s parent company NagaCorp in 1995 and has a Forbes-estimated net worth of $4.4 billion, was granted Cambodian nationality in a royal decree signed on October 19 by Senate president and acting head of state Say Chhum. King Norodom Sihamoni was in China at the time for one of his recurrent health visits.
The royal decree came just one month before NagaCorp announced to shareholders that it obtained a 50-year lease on 75 hectares of land neighboring Angkor Archaeological Park for a new resort and theme park development.
NagaWorld’s public relations department did not respond to emails regarding Chen’s citizenship.
Supreme Court spokesperson Ouk Kimcheat confirmed that Chen had been sworn in as a citizen last year but said he did not remember the date.
Kang Sokhon, director general of the Interior Ministry’s general department of identification, added that many foreigners had applied for citizenship last year but he had not noted their occupations.
According to a VOD analysis of available government records, Chen was among 275 individuals of 20 different nationalities who received Cambodian citizenship in 2020, with 220 of them Chinese.
As a new citizen, Chen can buy land solely under his name and can serve as a co-owner with foreign investors.
Chen has received an exclusive casino license to serve as Phnom Penh’s sole casino operator. His exclusive operation license was extended to 2045 after promising a $3.5 billion Naga 3 complex in Phnom Penh and some $40 million in payments to the government in late 2019.
The company earned $521 million in net profit in 2019, boosted by a 20 percent increase in gross gaming revenue, according to its annual report.
Though the casino closed from the start of April to July 8 due to Covid-19, the company expressed confidence in recovering profits in its nine-month report for 2020, the latest data available. NagaWorld reported average daily gaming revenue volumes starting at $1.84 million in the first quarter and dipping to just $1.67 million in August and September after reopening.
Pech Pisey, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, wondered why Chen received citizenship last year, after more than 20 years of entrepreneurship in the country.
“The CEO of Naga has been here for a long time since he did business on that ship,” he said, referring to a period where NagaWorld operated a casino from a boat docked along the Mekong River. “If you look at his background, he is fit enough to apply for citizenship. … It is not difficult to do.”
(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)