In a further legal blow to Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court announced Sunday that he has been charged with breaking the controversial adultery law over his alleged extramarital activities.
If he is found guilty, Prince Ranariddh could face one month to one year behind bars, on top of the 18 months to which the court sentenced him in absentia last week over the sale of Funcinpec’s headquarters.
Court Deputy Prosecutor Sok Kalyan said he charged Prince Ranariddh after deciding that he was breaking the law by continuing to have relations with his long-term partner Ouk Phalla.
“I charged the prince under the monogamy law relating to adultery,” Sok Kalyan said, adding that he did so last month.
Sok Kalyan said that the new charges against the embattled prince, who is president of the Norodom Ranariddh Party, are not politically motivated.
“I am not a politician, I am a deputy prosecutor,” he said, though he added that NRP officials have the right to make such allegations.
Investigating Judge Kim Ravy, who is working on the case, declined to say when the prince might be tried.
Contacted by telephone, Prince Ranariddh’s wife and Funcinpec Senior Minister Princess Marie declined comment on the case.
NRP spokesman Muth Channtha said the charges against the prince are politically motivated, and are aimed at preventing him from returning to Cambodia.
Muth Channtha claimed that Prince Ranariddh and Princess Marie were never formally married. He also claimed that the adultery law should not be applied in this case since the prince’s relationship with Ouk Phalla started before the National Assembly passed the law in August 2006.
Prince Ranariddh intends to write to the court arguing that the case is a family matter and should not be handled by the judiciary, Muth Channtha said. “The prince wants to reach a compromise on the case outside the court system.”
Muth Channtha accused the court of disclosing information about the charges now to deter NRP activists from campaigning ahead of next month’s commune elections.
Prince Ranariddh’s lawyer Moung Akrun said the court has not informed him of the new charges against his client, which he described as groundless.
Some court officials belong to the ruling CPP, he alleged, adding that the court should also charge government officials who behave adulterously. “The court must charge all people—not just one,” he said.
Prince Ranariddh is not the only senior NRP official to reportedly be facing fresh legal difficulties.
On Thursday, the party’s Acting President Prince Norodom Chakrapong was issued a summons to appear in court for questioning regarding $1.36 million he owes the Finance Ministry, Muth Channtha said.
It is uncertain whether Prince Chakrapong, who is accused of racking up the debt while he was chairman of Royal Phnom Penh Airways, will attend the questioning on Friday, Muth Channtha said.
Prince Chakrapong left Cambodia over the weekend and is currently seeking medical treatment in Bangkok, he said.
Prince Chakrapong said Wednesday that his debt was being raised for political reasons.
In an interview posted on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Web site Friday, Prince Ranariddh said his breach of trust trial was politically motivated.
“I think that what [Prime Minister] Hun Sen…did against me is to put pressure on me and to prevent me in particular from having political activity, and in particular, during the upcoming elections,” he said.
“I think that the national community will realize once again that we cannot talk about democracy, about liberalism, about pluralism if Norodom Ranariddh and his party are not allowed to participate in the next general elections,” he said.
Kek Galabru, president of local rights group Licadho, said Sunday the prince’s conviction for breach of trust raises concerns about the court’s independence.
The timing of the conviction—so close to the commune elections—is suspicious, she said.
Hang Puthea, director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free Elections in Cambodia, said NRP activists are campaigning effectively ahead of next month’s election. But the prince’s leadership of the party will suffer if his time becomes consumed by a legal battle, he said.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the legal difficulties facing Prince Chakrapong and Prince Ranariddh do not represent a political move against the NRP.
“All of the cases do not involve the CPP,” he said. “Only illiterate people would claim that those cases are politically motivated,” he added.