A Russian company broke ground Saturday on a US$472 million island resort project 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 2,970-foot (900-meter) bridge that will link Koh Puos _ Snake Island _ with a coastal beach in the port city of Sihanoukville.
Cambodia's government signed a deal with Koh Puos Investment Group Ltd. in 2006 that allows it to develop and manage resorts on the island for 99 years.
The company is run by a group of Russian businessmen, according to its Web site.
Alexey Chepa, an executive with the company, said at the groundbreaking ceremony that the total project represented a US$472 million investment, a substantial increase from the US$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 last 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 accusation.
Cambodian Transport Minister Sun Chanthol said the bridge will cost about US$31.3 million and be completed at the end of 2010.
He said it will 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 after one of its partners was jailed.
"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 about 115 miles (185 kilometers) southwest of the capital, Phnom Penh.
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