The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday ordered opposition lawmaker Ahmad Yahya to pay Norton University $130,285 in back tuition fees or have his property confiscated.
Ahmad Yahya said on Wednesday that he sent approximately 300 students—mostly Muslims like himself—to the school beginning in 1999, when he was a secretary of state and member of Funcinpec.
He had relied upon individual donations from abroad to pay for the students’ schooling, but donations dried up after the terror attacks on the US on Sept 11, 2001, and he is now unable to pay the debt.
Ahmad Yahya said he now faces the prospect of selling his home to pay the bill.
“I did not call Rainsy, I did not call the King, I did not call the prime minister. They have their own problems,” Ahmad Yahya said. “But we appeal to any government or institution that can help us…it would save my life.”
He added that he wanted to compromise with the school and pay the debt in installments.
Norton University Rector Chan Sokhieng said he, too, wanted to compromise, but was worried that the statute of limitations would run out if he did not bring the case to court.
Sim Ung, a 25-year-old ethnic Cham business administration student, appealed to rich Muslims to help his benefactor.
Sim Ung, like many of the 300 students, also received housing from Ahmad Yahya, either in the lawmaker’s home or an apartment he maintains for them. Vann Math, CPP senator and Cambodia Islamic Association president, said he would not help with the debt, alleging that Ahmad Yahya had financially overspent to gain popularity.
Ahmad Yahya said that although he was glad he had helped so many students, he regretted the possible loss of his home because he “acted like a prime minister.”
His wife, Egyptian national Sebika Aiad, concurred.
“I kept telling him he is not Mahathir,” she joked in reference to former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
But she added that the loss of their home wouldn’t be the end of the world.
“We can stay anywhere, no problem,” she said.