Senior Funcinpec officials Tuesday discounted Khmer-language newspaper reports that Prince Norodom Ranariddh was paid a seven-figure sum by the CPP for the governorship of Phnom Penh.
But top party members remain stumped as to why Funcinpec gave up the prominent position.
Party spokesman Pok Than said Tuesday he was aware of the bribe allegation circulating in newspapers, including the opposition’s Samleng Yuvachon Khmer (Voice of Khmer Youth), but said he did not know if there was any basis to it. “I really don’t know what is behind this. I really don’t know,” Pok Than said.
Pok Than, however, said party members are surprised at the prince’s decision to hand over a position that was promised to Funcinpec as part of the coalition agreement brokered in late 1998.
“This surprised me a lot. But I think the prince has his own ideas. We will have to see what is the deal,” said Pok Than.
Prince Ranariddh on Monday told reporters that he gave away the party’s right to appoint the governor because Prime Minister Hun Sen asked him to. The prince said top Funcinpec officials agreed with the decision.
The announcement over the weekend that CPP-appointee Chea Sophara would formally become the capital’s governor followed months of procrastination by Funcinpec to nominate a candidate.
On Tuesday, Tol Lah, Funcinpec’s secretary general, strongly denied allegations that money influenced the prince’s decision.
“Why should you listen to the Sam Rainsy paper…This is not the first time they criticize us for cooperating in the coalition ….They say we are becoming a tool of the CPP,” said Tol Lah.
According to Tol Lah, naming Chea Sophara as governor was the best for the party and had support from party members.
“I believe and I am convinced that the prince has weighed the gains and losses on the proposal put forward by the prime minister and the decision he made is the right decision and I support it without reserve. This is for the long-term interests of Funcinpec,” said Tol Lah, noting the party still can appoint two deputy governors for Phnom Penh.
Serey Kosal, a deputy secretary general of Funcinpec, said on Tuesday there was no evidence to prove or disprove the bribe allegations but the issue for Funcinpec members was trust in the prince. “If this is true or not, I do not know. But I personally do not believe [it],” he said. “Our prince will be tactical about giving a Funcinpec position to the CPP. We don’t know his political line, but it is not money. I think the prince always has a plan for the future. In the near future we can understand that line.”
Funcinpec’s Lu Laysreng, the minister of information, also said Tuesday he did not believe the allegations, but could neither confirm nor deny them. “[The newspapers] can say anything….But I don’t believe,” he said.
Lu Laysreng said some party members are unhappy with the prince’s decision but it will not threaten the cohesiveness of the party. “A lot of people are upset. But what can they do? They cannot break another time, there is no way,” Lu Laysreng said, referring to a party split that followed the 1997 factional fighting. “Even if we have to swallow the hard stone sometime, we cannot break another time.”
Chea Sophara, as deputy governor of Phnom Penh, had been effectively managing the capital without a city superior since July 1997, when factional fighting drove many Funcinpec officials into exile. He said Tuesday that the bribe allegations are untrue.
“This did not happen, but you know how the opposition newspapers are,” said Chea Sophara.
Responding to one newspaper report that $2 million was paid to Prince Ranariddh for the governor’s post, Chea Sophara quipped, “I read yesterday that I paid $3 million.”