NRP: Villa Still Belongs to Prince Ranariddh

The Norodom Ranariddh Party has issued a statement of protest against the government’s decision to revoke Prince Norodom Rana­riddh’s ownership of the dilapidated French colonial-era residence near Street 178 and Sothearos Boule­vard in Phnom Penh.

According to the statement issued Friday, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court ordered the residence, which was gifted to Prince Ranariddh by the government in 2005, to be given to Funcinpec Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay on July 17, 2007.

The prince’s lawyer Liv So­vanna appealed the decision, and while the appeal was pending, the Council of Ministers confiscated the building on July 23, 2007, and gave it to Nhiek Bun Chhay, the state­ment said.

“The NRP would like to condemn the government’s decision. It is showing that [Prime Minister] Hun Sen’s government does not respect the judicial system…. It was collusion between the government and Nhiek Bun Chhay,” the statement said.

NRP spokesman Muth Chann­tha said by telephone Sunday that Prince Ranariddh is the rightful owner of the land and the court’s ruling was therefore unlawful.

“The government has violated the Constitution and the Land Law by nullifying his title and ownership. That is why we issued a statement,” he said, adding that although the initial lawsuit was nearly one year ago, the NRP only recently learned the full details relating to the case.

Funcinpec Second Deputy President Prince Sisowath Sirirath confirmed that the residence was gifted to Prince Ranariddh by Hun Sen, but said he didn’t have any information about a change in ownership after that.

“The prince wanted the building. The prime minister gave it to him,” he said.

Funcinpec President Keo Puth Rasmey said Sunday he was too busy to comment. Nan Sy, Fun­cinpec spokesman, said he didn’t know anything about the case.

In a question and answer radio session aired Sunday afternoon on FM 99, a CPP-aligned radio station, Council of Ministers spokesperson Phay Siphan said that the residence was offered to the president of the National Assembly in 2005, who at that time was Prince Ranariddh, and promised it to him for as long as he remained Assembly president.

Once Prince Ranariddh re­signed from that position in 2006, the court ruled that the property be given back to the CPP, he said.

“He lost his position. He must return the property to the government. It is not a confiscation,” he said.

Phay Siphan said the NRP statement was a politically motivated attempt to defame the government.

“The NRP wants to show the government’s inability before the election. It is a lie. [Prince Ranariddh] destroys his own country and wanted to incite people,” he said.

By telephone later Sunday, Phay Siphan said that the Council of Ministers only executed what the court had already decided.

“The court decided to give the property to the CPP…. We made sure that the property returned to its original owner,” he said, adding that he had no information about subsequent business deals involving the property.

Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Anthony Alderson, operations director for the FCC, said Sunday that Food and Beverage Solutions, which owns several nearby establishments, including the FCC and Pacharan restaurants, acquired the building about six months ago, though he declined to say from whom they bought it or how much they paid for it.

He said FABS plans to restore the historic building and construct a boutique hotel.

“We’ll renovate the building, keep it in its original state…and the hotel will be built up around it,” he said, adding the land title is for approximately 1,500 square me­ters, of which the building occupies about 500 square meters.

Alderson said the political controversy surrounding the building is of some concern, but that their entire business deal was above board. He said the group’s documentation was verified by ANZ Royal bank, with whom FABS has a mortgage on the property.

Saroeun Soush, managing director at Asia Real Property Co, said Sunday that the land is worth around $4,500 per square meter, which is about as expensive as land gets in Phnom Penh.

Darryl Collins, a Siem Reap-based historian, said he was asked by FABS to research the building a few months ago and has been having difficulty gathering information.

He said it is likely circa 1910, based on the style of the building and its location among a row of residences that were probably inhabited by Sino-Khmer advisers to the Royal Palace.

Collins said he believed that until less than a decade ago, the residence housed Royal Palace police.

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