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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Cambodian Court Sentences Prince To Jail

March 13th 2007

A Cambodian judge sentenced disgraced politician, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, to 18 months jail Tuesday in absentia over a scandal involving the sale of his former party's headquarters.

The verdict was immediately condemned by Ranariddh's lawyer, Lee Sovann, who called it "a complete injustice from beginning to end."

A spokesman for Ranariddh's newly-founded Norodom Ranariddh Party, Muth Chantha, said demonstrations in the capital from Ranariddh supporters would follow.

Ranariddh, whose political career has nosedived since he was voted out as president of the royalist government coalition partner, Funcinpec, in October before setting up his own self-named party, declined to return from France for the hearing.

Ranariddh was convicted of misappropriating money from the more than 1.5 million dollar sale of the royalist Funcinpec party's headquarters after a complaint by Funcinpec Secretary General Nhek Bun Chhay.

Judge Sao Miech of Phnom Penh Municipal Court said he had found the evidence presented showing breach of trust to have been sufficient to impose a jail term.

He also ordered the prince to pay 150,000 dollars in compensation to Funcinpec and to hand the party's new headquarters over to Funcinpec.

The prince had denied the charges, saying they were false and politically motivated. Vital nationwide community elections are to be held on April 1.

Ranariddh was Cambodia's first post-Khmer Rouge prime minister but lost much of his power during factional fighting against the ruling Cambodian People's Party in 1997.

He is a half-brother to King Norodom Sihamoni and a son of former king, Norodom Sihanouk. Estranged from his wife, Princess Norodom Marie, he now spends most of his time overseas with his partner, the classical dancer, Ouk Phalla.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Hun Sen vowed there would be no pardons for Ranariddh if convicted this time as there were in 1997 when he was convicted of leading an armed force and sentenced to more than 30 years in prison.

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