Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged Prince Norodom Ranariddh with breach of trust Monday for allegedly selling Funcinpec’s headquarters for his own benefit in late 2005, a court official said.
The court has issued neither a summons for questioning nor an arrest warrant for the prince, who is currently outside Cambodia, Deputy Prosecutor Ngeth Sarath said Tuesday.
But if Prince Ranariddh is convicted under Article 46 of the Untac law, he could face between one and five years behind bars, Ngeth Sarath said.
“The Funcinpec party’s headquarters is not Prince Norodom Ranariddh’s property,” he added.
Prince Ranariddh was president of Funcinpec at the time of the sale in November 2005, but was ousted from his position Oct 18.
Funcinpec Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay filed a complaint at the court Nov 8 accusing Prince Ranariddh of selling the headquarters, located next to the French Embassy, for $3.6 million and pocketing the proceeds.
Nhiek Bun Chhay requested the prince’s prosecution in his complaint and demanded that he return the $3.6 million and pay Funcinpec an additional $1 million in damages.
Ngeth Sarath said Funcinpec’s board of directors was not informed of the decision to sell the property.
Prince Ranariddh, along with unidentified supporters, took the money from the sale and used it to buy the site for Funcinpec’s new headquarters in Dangkao district, he said.
Instead of registering that property in the party’s name, the prince put the land in his own name, thus breaching Funcinpec’s trust, Ngeth Sarath said.
Ngeth Sarath said he charged Prince Ranariddh without first questioning him because he already has adequate evidence to prove he broke the law.
Muth Channtha, Norodom Ranariddh Party spokesman, said the prince did not choose to sell the headquarters and that Funcinpec’s congress made the decision.
The prince put the Dangkao district property in his name because he was the party’s historical president at the time, Muth Channtha said, adding that Prince Ranariddh did not profit from the sale.
The prince will return to Cambodia on Dec 29 and will testify in the case if the court summons him, Muth Channtha said.
“He is not afraid of the court. He will testify. If Cambodia has the rule of the law, the prince will win,” he added. The lawsuit is politically motivated, he said.
Funcinpec spokesman Nouv Sovathero said there is no document proving that the party’s congress agreed to the sale.
“We have no reason to gain political benefits from the lawsuit,” he said.
The breach of trust charge against the prince comes one day after officials disclosed that Princess Norodom Marie Ranariddh has also filed a lawsuit at the municipal court seeking her estranged husband’s prosecution for his alleged infidelity.
If he were to be convicted under the new monogamy law, Prince Ranariddh could spend between one month and a year behind bars.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said the prince should not worry too much about his current legal problems, as King Norodom Sihamoni can grant him amnesty if he is convicted.
Hang Puthea, director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free Elections in Cambodia, said the lawsuits appear intended to block the prince from participating in the commune elections in April and the national elections in 2008.
He also warned that if Funcinpec and NRP officials get too bogged down in lawsuits, they wouldn’t be left with any time to rally supporters ahead of the elections.