Prince Norodom Ranariddh has been given the “green light” to return to Cambodia, Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said Thursday.
Living in self-imposed exile since January 2007, the Norodom Ranariddh Party leader has been seeking a way to return to Cambodia without having to serve an 18-month prison sentence handed down by the Phnom Penh municipal court earlier this year.
According to Khieu Kanharith, the details concerning the prince’s return have not yet been ironed out.
“There has been a green light, but I don’t know how far the procedure has been carried out,” Khieu Kanharith said by telephone.
The minister declined to say who had given the approval for the prince to return, and directed all further questions to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet.
Council of Ministers Secretary of State Prak Sokhonn could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The NRP, however, seemed uncertain Thursday as to whether their leader was set to return, with party spokesman Suth Dina saying the prince “might return after the formation of the new government.”
He added, however, that the prince told a 10-person NRP delegation in Kuala Lumpur last week that he would soon “see them in Phnom Penh.”
A woman answering the prince’s phone Thursday said he was not available to speak with a reporter.
Prince Ranariddh’s political career has been in a tailspin since 2006. His ouster from Funcinpec’s presidency in October of that year sparked a division in the royalist political movement and an angry feud with his former party that culminated in a lawsuit over the sale of Funcinpec’s former Phnom Penh headquarters.
Accused of breach of trust in the sale by Funcinpec Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay, the prince was ultimately convicted by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and sentenced to 18 months jail time and substantial fines. The Appeal and Supreme courts have since upheld his conviction and sentence.
Ahead of the Supreme Court verdict, Funcinpec President Keo Puth Rasmey attempted to have the charges dropped, but the court said he could not do so because the original complaint against Prince Ranariddh had been filed by Nhiek Bun Chhay.
Contacted Thursday, Nhiek Bun Chhay said he would not object to the prince being allowed back into Cambodia, but added that he doubted the courts would drop the charge, given that the Supreme Court has agreed with the verdict.
With the case having already gone through the courts, the prince’s return would presumably require the intervention of King Norodom Sihamoni, but Royal Palace officials could not be reached Thursday to confirm whether a request for an amnesty had been made by the government on Prince Ranariddh’s behalf.