Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered lawyers to investigate a $1.36-million debt that Prince Norodom Chakrapong owes the Finance Ministry and the prince’s assets could be confiscated if he does not pay up, a government spokesman said Wednesday.
The move against Prince Chakrapong, acting president of the Norodom Ranariddh Party, comes one day after the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced NRP President Prince Norodom Ranariddh in absentia to 18 months in jail and ordered him to pay $150,000 for selling Funcinpec’s headquarters.
“Samdech Hun Sen has ordered the legal team to look into [Prince Chakrapong’s debt],” Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Wednesday.
“[Prince Chakrapong] owes the money, he must refund it,” he said. “He has many houses. He must sell them.”
The Finance Ministry presented Prince Chakrapong with the $1.36-million bill in March 2006 for unpaid taxes and fees on his now-defunct Royal Phnom Penh Airways, officials said at the time. Finance Secretary of State Kong Vibol had then said that Prince Chakrapong owed five years’ worth of unpaid taxes on the airline as well as navigation and landing fees.
Prince Chakrapong, who was the airline’s chairman, said Wednesday that he has informed the Finance Ministry that he cannot be held responsible for the debt as the airline is bankrupt.
“When my company went bankrupt, it was finished,” he said. He added, however, that he still owns two airplanes that the government is welcome to take.
Prince Chakrapong also said that the debt has been raised for political reasons.
“All companies owe the government money. The government has targeted me because I am acting president of the Norodom Ranariddh Party.”
The government is trying to force royals out of politics altogether, he alleged. “They want the royal family members not to participate in politics because people still support the royals.”
The NRP issued a statement Wednesday saying it does not recognize Prince Ranariddh’s conviction.
The trial was “political revenge” against the prince, intended to block him from participating in next month’s commune council elections, the NRP statement said.
Both CPP and court officials have defended Prince Ranariddh’s trial, saying it was handled fairly and was not politically motivated.
Well-known CTN television personality Soy Sopheap appeared on both CTN and state-run TVK on Wednesday, announcing that he had acted as a mediator between Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh prior to the trial.
Soy Sopheap claimed Hun Sen had twice tried to reach an out-of-court compromise with Prince Ranariddh ahead of the trial. But, he said, a compromise became impossible after NRP officials leaked information about the negotiations to the public.
“The prince insisted that the prime minister should compromise on the case without going through the court,” Soy Sopheap claimed in the broadcast.
Soy Sopheap said Hun Sen was also deterred from compromise with Prince Ranariddh by the NRP’s threat to hold a large-scale demonstration against the court case against him.
“My personal thought is that if [Prince Ranariddh] stays calm and finds a solution, that is better than a threat to hold a demonstration,” Soy Sopheap told his television audience.
NRP spokesman Muth Channtha denied Prince Ranariddh had sought a compromise with Hun Sen.
He also denied that Soy Sopheap had mediated between the two politicians, saying that he was simply a messenger.
Prince Sisowath Thomico, head of the Sangkum Jatiniyum Front Party, issued a statement Wednesday accusing the CPP of using the court as a weapon to eliminate political competitors.
Sao Meach, the judge who presided over Prince Ranariddh’s trial, and municipal court Director Chiv Keng, could not be reached for comment.