A Thai court awarded Cambodia’s Minister of Culture Princess Bopha Devi more than $100,000 in compensation on Tuesday following a successful defamation suit against the Bangkok Post newspaper, family and lawyers for the princess said.
Bopha Devi, a daughter of King Norodom Sihanouk, had initially sued the Post Publishing Company for $6 million over a July 2000 editorial in the newspaper alleging she was suspected of drug trafficking.
The princess testified in court in February. The court’s ruling was announced Tuesday, Khek Vandy, Bopha Devi’s husband, said on Wednesday.
“The princess is very happy it is over. The defense had no proof to provide, nor any witness,” Khek Vandy said.
The newspaper article, titled “The New Threat from Cambodia,” cited an unnamed anti-drug expert alleging that Bopha Devi was suspected by Cambodian police of involvement in a ring smuggling heroin to Vietnam.
Bopha Devi’s Bangkok-based lawyers, Tilleke & Gibbins International Ltd, said in a faxed letter Tuesday that the court acknowledged the article was untrue and the newspaper was “grossly negligent in failing to verify its content before publication.”
“The Court noted the injury to Her Royal Highness’ health and to her reputation as a member of the Royal Family and a Minister,” the lawyer’s letter stated.
Post Publishing was also ordered to publish a summary of the court’s ruling for 15 days in the Bangkok Post and its Web site, the lawyers said in the letter.
Leaving open the possibility of an appeal for a larger amount of compensation, Bopha Devi’s lawyers said the judgment was sizable but did not fairly reflect the damage done to her reputation.
However Khek Vandy indicated Bopha Devi would not appeal the judgment and said he hoped the newspaper would not either, as the princess was exhausted by the case.
Khek Vandy claimed lawyers for the newspaper publisher attempted to settle the case outside court, but Bopha Devi—who fell sick and was allegedly hospitalized as a result of the article—wanted her name cleared in public.
“The [court] judgment was better for us because it is clear,” Khek Vandy said.
Sau Phan, deputy director-general of Cambodia’s National Police, welcomed news of Bopha Devi’s case on Wednesday stating the princess was never a police suspect.
“It was justice for her to win the court case,” Sau Phan said.
“She was not involved with drug trafficking. She could not do it. Drug traffickers are always powerful men.”
Pich Chivorn, deputy director of the Interior Ministry anti-narcotics unit, said the first mention of Bopha Devi’s involvement with drugs came from the Bangkok Post article.
No investigation took place, as the information was clearly defamatory to the princess, Pich Chivorn said.
“It’s great she won the court case,” he said.
Lawyers for Bopha Devi investigated a French publication that initially carried the defamatory information but discovered it no longer exists, Khek Vandy said.
Also, claims by the Bangkok Post that the magazine was backed by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs were denied by French ministry officials, he said.
Cambodia’s porous borders, weak judicial system and lax law- enforcement agencies have made it a target for international drug trafficking rings in recent years.
UN anti-drug officials have also warned that Cambodia was fast becoming a major transit route for heroin smuggled out of the notorious “Golden Triangle” located in the lawless border areas between Laos, Thailand and Burma.
Increased efforts in Thailand and Burma to crack down on trafficking have made Cambodia a more desirable transit route for drugs leaving the region, the UN claims.
(Additional reporting by Kevin Doyle)
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