Cambodian Prince Loses Appeal in Embezzlement Case
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) - Cambodia's highest court upheld a guilty verdict against an exiled former prime minister on embezzlement charges Wednesday, effectively barring him from returning home to resume his political career.
Supreme Court Judge Chhim Sophal upheld a lower court's ruling last year that found Prince Norodom Ranariddh guilty of breach of trust and sentenced him to 18 months in prison. The lawsuit was filed by the prince's former colleagues in the royalist Funcinpec party, which he once led.
The ruling will make it difficult for Ranariddh, a once-influential national figure who is the son of former King Norodom Sihanouk, to stage a political comeback. Ranariddh was co-prime minister of the country from 1993-97.
His supporters say the lawsuit and ruling were politically motivated.
The Funcinpec party, which ousted Ranariddh as president in October 2006, sued the prince accusing him of embezzling some US$3.6 million from the sale of the party's headquarters in August that year.
Funcinpec cited the prince's alleged incompetence and frequent absences from the country as the reason for his ouster from the party.
In March 2007, a municipal court judge sentenced the prince _ who has been living in exile since before his removal from Funcinpec _ in absentia. It also ordered him to pay US$150,000 in compensation to the party.
After his ouster, Ranariddh formed the Norodom Ranariddh Party. The party took part in last weekend's parliamentary election and unofficial results, show it winning two seats in the 123-seat lower house of parliament.
His party issued a statement Wednesday saying the prince was innocent and condemning the final ruling as «senseless and unjust.
«The ruling was politically motivated. We are now looking for ways to bring him back to Cambodia,» Muth Chantha, the party spokesman, said without elaborating.
Ranariddh served as a co-prime minister with Prime Minister Hun Sen before the latter toppled him in a two-day armed clash in 1997.
Under Cambodian law, he will be barred from running for public office unless he serves at least two-thirds of his jail term or receives a pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni, his half-brother.
Ranariddh is currently believed to be living in Malaysia.