Phnom Penh Municipal Court has issued a warrant asking the National Police to apprehend and escort Prince Norodom Ranariddh to the court for questioning upon his return to Cambodia, police officials said Monday.
Deputy National Police Commissioner Sok Phal said the court has informed him that the warrant was issued Friday, but police have not yet received it because of the Chinese New Year.
“The warrant is being sent to the National Police,” Sok Phal said. “We must comply with the court’s warrant.”
The court issued the document after deciding that Prince Ranariddh had twice failed to attend court when summoned over a breach of trust lawsuit that Funcinpec filed against him over the sale of the party’s headquarters, the prince’s lawyer Liv Sovanna said.
Liv Sovanna, who has been briefed by the court on the matter, said the warrant should never have been issued.
Prince Ranariddh is quite prepared to return to Cambodia and face the court of his own accord, and has previously asked for his questioning to be delayed because he was too busy in France to attend, the lawyer said.
“The police don’t need to bring the prince to court. The prince will go the court by himself,” he said.
The warrant is a political ploy intended to scupper Prince Ranariddh’s efforts to rally his supporters ahead of April’s commune elections, he claimed.
“The warrant is to prevent Prince Norodom Ranariddh from campaigning,” he said.
Funcinpec’s lawsuit alleges that Prince Ranariddh sold the headquarters in 2005 for personal benefit, and calls on the court to prosecute him for cheating his former party.
Prince Ranariddh has denied the allegations.
Liv Sovanna claimed the warrant was issued by judge Ke Sakhorn.
A bodyguard to Ke Sakhorn who answered his phone said the judge was too busy to speak to a reporter.
Kry Sok Y, the court’s deputy director, referred questions on the case to Ke Sakhorn. Court Director Chiv Keng said Ke Sakhorn had not informed him of the details of the case and that he knew nothing about it.
Norodom Ranariddh Party spokesman Muth Channtha said the prince is not afraid of returning to Cambodia, though he was uncertain of the prince’s exact schedule.
Muth Channtha said earlier this month that Prince Ranariddh was due back in Cambodia on Feb 28 to campaign for commune elections in April, after proctoring an exam at the university where he works in Aix-en-Provence, France.
Funcinpec spokesman Nouv Sovathero said that if the prince is innocent, he should have nothing to fear from returning.
Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said the warrant is likely politically motivated. Due to the erratic nature of Cambodia’s courts, the prince could now be immediately thrown in jail upon his return, he said.
“The Cambodian judicial system is unpredictable. Everyone is afraid,” he said.