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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Cambodia to launch casino

PHNOM PENH - A CAMBODIAN tycoon will launch a US$100 million (S$141.1 million) casino near the country's border with Vietnam this month to attract foreign tourists and develop the country's fast-growing entertainment industry.

The Titan King Casino will open its doors on Feb 26 in Bavet, a town in Svay Rieng province, about 120km (75 miles) from Phnom Penh, covering 2.5 hectares of land and employing some 6,000 people, its owner, Mr Kith Thieng, told Reuters on Tuesday.

Mr Kith Thieng, whose business interests include hotels, fast food restaurants, a mobile phone operator and stakes in a bank and television station, said he wanted to help Cambodia's entertainment sector rebound after the global economic crisis.

'Most gamblers will be Vietnamese but my goal is also to attract people from other countries,' he said. 'I want to promote the fact that Cambodia has enough places for entertainment.' Tourism is the impoverished country's second-biggest earner after its agriculture sector.

Cambodia generated revenues of US$19 million from its 29 casinos in 2008, according to Finance Ministry data.

That fell to US$17 million last year, with the decline attributed to a fall in tourist arrivals and rising border tensions with neighbouring Thailand. -- REUTERS

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City student travels to Cambodia

Katharine Marshall has been sponsoring a Cambodian child since she was 11 years old.

On Feb. 4, the 16-year-old City High senior got to meet that child, Mom Chinda, now 16 years old herself, when she and her father, Jeffery Ford, traveled to Cambodia.

Marshall said that five years ago, she and her family got involved with Friendship with Cambodia after a representative of the group spoke at a Rotary Club meeting in Champaign, Ill., where Marshall and her family were living at the time. Friendship with Cambodia is a non-profit group that, according to its Web site, promotes cultural understanding of Cambodia and supports humanitarian projects in the southeast Asian nation that is still reeling from the mass killing of about 2 million people, roughly a quarter of its population, in the late 1970s.

It was after that Rotary Club meeting that Marshall began to sponsor a child through the organization, sending $360 a year to them to help cover a girl’s education, uniforms, textbooks and school supplies.

“Lots of times, their education is pushed back because of income,” Marshall said.

A recent newsletter from Friendship with Cambodia prompted Marshall and her father to decide to travel to Cambodia and meet Chinda in person.

“My family likes to travel a lot, so my dad and I decided to go,” she said.

Leaving Jan. 25, the pair flew into Siem Reap in northern Cambodia. They visited the ancient temple at Angkor Wat as well as the capital city of Phnom Penh and Kampot in the southern part of the country. Marshall said she was happy that they were among those who were taking a “socially responsible” trip that did not involve the thriving sex trade in Cambodia, but was amazed at the poverty she saw.

“It was amazing how poor it was and how hopeful everyone seemed,” she said. "They were really welcoming and it was great to see.”

After a three-hour taxi ride from Kampot, they arrived in Chinda’s village, where she met Mom and her extended family. Despite the language barrier, they got along well during the four-hour visit.

“She was really shy and quiet, but you could see she was really intelligent,” Marshall said of Mom. “She was very pulled together. It was like meeting a sister almost. (Her family was) proud that she was getting an education.”

Marshall and her father returned home to Iowa City on Feb. 6, and Marshall said she plans to continue to sponsor Mom as far as she goes in her education, even through college if the opportunity arises. She said she was impressed that the country was coming together after years of war and severe poverty, with hope for the future.

“There’s no way out for some people,” Marshall said. “Their programs are becoming self-sufficient, so that’s great to see.”
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NY court overturns adoption by J&J heiress

By MICHAEL GORMLEY, Associated Press Writer Michael Gormley

ALBANY, N.Y. – A four-year adoption fight between jet-setting Manhattanites over an ailing and abandoned orphan from Cambodia is ending, at least for now, with the boy able to see the only father he's known.

New York's top court on Tuesday overturned the adoption by Johnson & Johnson heiress Elizabeth "Libet" Johnson, closing a case that wended through international law and involved what the adoptive father's lawyer called a "stealth adoption" by Johnson.

One of Manhattan's richest women, Johnson has been fighting over the adoption of the 7-year-old with her former lover, Dr. Lionel Bissoon, the one-time weight-loss guru to the rich of Manhattan, West Palm Beach and Beverly Hills.

"It means they will be able to have the father-and-son relationship they had since he was just a few months old and not have it cut off," said Bissoon's attorney, Bonnie E. Rabin. "The irony is that this child was orphaned and they tried to take away the only father he ever had ... this child loves his father."

The child continues to live with Johnson in her multimillion dollar Manhattan apartment, although the decision gives Bissoon legal standing he sought to see the child he helped rescue.

Richard A. Greenberg, Johnson's lawyer, said after Tuesday's ruling that he has several options, including taking the international case to the U.S. Supreme Court. There, he said he could argue the federal question of whether New York had to respect the Cambodian government's decisions regarding one of its orphans.

The court referred to the privileged upbringing Johnson, a mother of four, is able to provide. She's a jet-setter who once reportedly dated bold-faced bachelors including actor Michael Nouri and singer Michael Bolton, while living in her $62 million triplex in the Trump Tower overlooking Central Park, according to a 2008 story in "New York" magazine. It quoted Johnson as seeing herself as another poor little rich girl like Paris Hilton.

But Johnson found her life's work in establishing the Golden Child orphanage in Cambodia to care for the huge number of abandoned children in the impoverished country.

The saga began in January 2003, when the child, then 2 months old with a heart ailment, was found abandoned in a village market. Johnson already had become a leader in providing Cambodian orphans new lives in the United States, and she and Bissoon brought the infant to Manhattan on a temporary visa for medical care.

The couple had hoped to adopt and raise the child together. But the United States had a moratorium on Cambodian adoptions to combat illegal trafficking. Bissoon, however, then claimed dual citizenship in Trinidad and Tobago, which had no moratorium.

Trinidad approved the request, but Bissoon found out too late that the country doesn't allow unmarried men to adopt.

At about this time, in August 2004, the romance was strained as they again sought to adopt the child through Cambodia's government. In December 2005, more fighting over differing approaches to raising the child ended the relationship.

A month later, Johnson sought a New York adoption for the boy, but didn't tell Bissoon. Johnson later acknowledged errors in her petition, first by erroneously calling it a "re-adoption" and then failing to disclose a recent stay in an alcohol treatment facility, according to court records.

Unopposed, the New York adoption was granted.

Then, eight months later, Bissoon found out about it.

A surrogate court, and later an appellate division panel, agreed to vacate the New York adoption, based in part on expert testimony regarding Cambodian laws. On Tuesday, New York's highest court agreed.

"We are satisfied that, under Cambodian law, (Bissoon) validly adopted (the boy) in June 2004," the state Court of Appeals stated in its 7-0 decision. Because of international law in which countries respect the acts of other countries, Bissoon also was recognized as the father under New York law.

Johnson argued that granting her the adoption is in the best interest of the child, who has lived with her almost all his life and who the court noted "no doubt thinks is his mother."

"The best interests of a child, important though they are, do not automatically validate an otherwise illegal adoption," wrote Judge Robert Smith. "The parental rights of a child's father cannot simply be ignored because a court thinks it would be in the child's best interest to be adopted by someone else."

Bissoon, who sought to force Johnson to accept that he's the child's adoptive father, doesn't plan to take him away from Johnson. The court, however, didn't have to decide how extensive Bissoon's rights may be if he were to try.

"That question," Smith wrote, "is academic, and we hope it will remain so."

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