The Norodom Ranariddh Party launched a last-ditch defense of Prince Norodom Ranariddh ahead of the start of his trial today, alleging the courts were an agent of the government and the prosecution a bid to scupper his political career.
Prince Ranariddh, who is outside the country, is due to stand trial at Phnom Penh Municipal Court in absentia for breach of trust over allegations that he sold Funcinpec’s headquarters in 2005 for personal benefit—a charge he has denied. If convicted, he could be sentenced to one to five years behind bars.
Norodom Ranariddh Party Acting President Prince Norodom Chakrapong told a press conference in Phnom Penh on Monday that the courts are not independent enough to try the prince.
“The court is a political court. The court receives orders from the executive branch,” Prince Chakrapong alleged at the NRP’s cabinet office on Mao Tse Tung Boulevard.
“Who would dare to rule that [Prince Ranariddh] is innocent? Even if the judge likes justice, he cannot dare,” he added.
He added that the government should focus instead on passing the long-awaited anti-corruption law and getting the Khmer Rouge tribunal started.
Prime Minister Hun Sen announced Saturday that he will not request a pardon for the prince if he is sentenced, and would allow him to remain in jail. He also said that if the prince is convicted this time and “provokes chaotic problems,” he will have to serve two thirds of his sentence. But if the prince is “calm,” Hun Sen said he would ask for him to be released on bail.
Prince Chakrapong said he was saddened by Hun Sen’s speech. “The government should not interfere in the case,” Prince Chakrapong said.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap also said that Hun Sen is not applying pressure on the court. “[He] just wanted to raise the issue for the public,” Cheam Yeap said.
If people break the law, they should expect to be punished, Cheam Yeap said, adding that the trial is not intended to sabotage the prince’s political career.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Hun Sen’s speech will not affect the court’s decision. Hun Sen was merely discussing what he would do if Prince Ranariddh were to be convicted, and was not applying any pressure on the court to issue a guilty verdict, Khieu Kanharith said.
Ahead of his trial, Prince Ranariddh has written from Kuala Lumpur to retired King Norodom Sihanouk and thanked him for telling him not to return to Cambodia, said Noranarith Anandayath, Prince Ranariddh’s special adviser.
Norodom Sihanouk has responded to the prince’s letter, saying he was touched by the prince’s words and expressing his affection for his son, Noranarith Anandayath said.
Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana said that he was unaware of the details of the prince’s hearing, and referred questions to municipal court Director Chiv Keng.
Chiv Keng declined comment, as did Judge Sao Meach, who is slated to preside over today’s hearing. Chiv Keng said last week that the court is handling the case fairly and independently.
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Tomei.)