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Cablegate: Lawsuits Keep Ranariddh Out of Cambodia; Out Of

VZCZCXRO5700
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0310/01 0540904
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 230904Z FEB 07
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8063
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 PHNOM PENH 000310

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
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STATE FOR EAP/MLS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM KJUS CB
SUBJECT: LAWSUITS KEEP RANARIDDH OUT OF CAMBODIA; OUT OF
POLITICAL SPOTLIGHT


1. (SBU) Summary. Legal action against Prince Norodom
Ranariddh by his estranged wife on adultery grounds and by
FUNCINPEC over the Prince's alleged improper handling of the
sale of FUNCINPEC's party headquarters to a development
company have acted to keep Ranariddh largely out of Cambodia
since early December 2006. The Phnom Penh court issued a
warrant for the Prince's arrest on February 16 for not having
appeared on two occasions at the court for questioning. NRP
officials plan to organize a demonstration to protest the
RGC's treatment of their leader. Norodom Ranariddh Party
(NRP) officials accuse the government of using Cambodia's
weak and politically biased judiciary to undermine the
Prince's popularity and the NRP's prospects for success at
the polls on April 1. Despite the Prince's legal problems,
the NRP managed to produce candidate lists for over 1,400 of
Cambodia's 1,621 communes, following large numbers of
FUNCINPEC defections to the NRP. Meanwhile, the issue of
royal family members' involvement in politics is once again a
topic of conversation and debate. End Summary.

Ranariddh -- Out of Sight, But Still on the RGC's Mind
--------------------------------------------- ---------

2. (SBU) Since the October 2006 split in FUNCINPEC between
the Nhek Bun Chhay faction and the loyalists to former
FUNCINPEC leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh, several lawsuits
have been lodged against Ranariddh. The first legal action
against the ex-FUNCINPEC leader came from estranged wife and
recently appointed RGC senior minister in charge of the
government's program to fight HIV/AIDS, Princess Marie
Ranariddh. Ranariddh's estranged wife brought suit in early
December 2006 against her husband through the country's
adultery law, passed by the National Assembly earlier in
2006. At the time, many observers predicted the legislation
would be used to discredit Prince Ranariddh, whose long-time
companion (and mother of his three-year-old son), Ouk Phalla,
had been publicly castigated by PM Hun Sen, who described
Phalla as "an evil fox." Princess Marie's lawsuit, however,
has receded from public attention since it was filed on
December 7, 2006. Ranariddh's advisors claim that the
Princess was pushed into filing the lawsuit by FUNCINPEC and
CPP officials in an effort to undermine Prince Ranariddh's
new political party. According to these same sources, there
has been disagreement within Ranariddh's family over the
legal action, and the couple's children are reportedly
unhappy over the public nature of their parents' feud.
Former King Sihanouk has also weighed in, publicly chiding
the Princess for allowing herself to be used for political
ends.

3. (SBU) Senior NRP officials note that the Prince long ago
ceded much of the couple's joint property to Princess Marie,
and Ranariddh reportedly has agreed that his estranged wife
should retain those assets she requires in order to drop the
suit against him. One FUNCINPEC MP who remains loyal to the
Prince also told us that the Cambodian public recognizes that
passage of the adultery law was politically motivated, and
the public has not reacted negatively to the Prince as the
government had hoped. Therefore, the RGC has realized
pushing the adultery issue will only raise questions about
FUNCINPEC and CPP officials known to have mistresses, he
explained, and the hypocrisy of focusing only on Ranariddh
will backfire for the government.

4. (SBU) Two additional lawsuits are potentially more
serious for the Prince. The first was lodged by FUNCINPEC on
November 8, 2006 and accused the Prince of improprieties
surrounding the sale of the FUNCINPEC party headquarters to a
private development company headed by businessman Ly Chhoung.
FUNCINPEC Secretary General Nhek Bun Chhay brought the suit
against Ranariddh, and accused the former FUNCINPEC leader of
an "abuse of confidence" and of personally profiting from the
USD 3.6 million transaction. According to the complaint,
Ranariddh allegedly sold the property to Ly Chhoung in 2005,
with USD 1.2 accorded for the purchase of the new FUNCINPEC
headquarters site and USD 2.4 retained by Ly Chhoung's
company for use in building the new facility. The suit
maintains that Ranariddh proceeded with the sale without the
knowledge of FUNCINPEC officials, and that Ranariddh put the
title of the new headquarters property in his name. NRP
officials insist that FUNCINPEC officials were aware of the
sale, including Nhek Bun Chhay, who the NRP claims was
instrumental in brokering the deal with Ly Chhoung -- a
relative of CPP Standing Committee member and National
Assembly parliamentarian Cheam Yeap. Ranariddh's advisors
maintain the Prince did not make any money from the sale and
the Prince's legal team has circulated a rejoinder accusing
Nhek Bun Chhay of political motives in bringing the baseless
suit against Ranariddh. Meanwhile, the Phnom Penh Municipal

PHNOM PENH 00000310 002 OF 003


Court began taking testimony and collecting documents related
to the case in January 2007.

5. (U) In early January 2007, PM Hun Sen requested the RGC
to investigate the details surrounding the May 2000 contract
awarded to a Taiwanese construction firm for the renovation
of the National Stadium. The government's spokesperson,
Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith, claimed to the press
that the investigation was at the behest of opposition Sam
Rainsy Party (SRP) MP Son Chhay, but the opposition figure
suggested that the RGC's desire to add another legal battle
to the NRP leader's headaches could be the reason. Son Chhay
noted he has raised questions about the stadium deal in the
past, but his inquiries had been dismissed. Calling for an
investigation that was brokered nearly 7 years ago at this
time raises questions regarding the PM's motivation, say
Ranariddh supporters, who deny that the Prince had any part
in the Stadium deal.

Latest Developments
-------------------

6. (SBU) For his part, Ranariddh has maintained a low
profile and spent much of his time over the last several
months outside Cambodia. The Prince returned to Cambodia
briefly over the New Year to celebrate his 63rd birthday on
January 2, but left the country again shortly afterwards and
reportedly is in France. NRP officials report that Ranariddh
has no immediate plans to return. Meanwhile, FUNCINPEC
Secretary General Nhek Bun Chhay has called on Cambodian

SIPDIS
authorities to arrest the Prince should Ranariddh come back
to Cambodia. On February 16, the Municipal Court of Phnom
Penh issued a warrant to detain the Prince on his return to
Cambodia. The court explained that the warrant was issued
following the Prince's non-appearance at two previous
hearings over the FUNCINPEC headquarters transaction.
Ranariddh's lawyers have cried foul, saying that the Prince
is too busy with academic duties in France to return to the
country at this time, but will clear his name on his return.

7. (SBU) Most recently, NRP officials have told us that
they are planning a peaceful protest of NRP members
throughout Cambodia to highlight the RGC's unjust tactics
towards Ranariddh. They estimate that as many as 10,000 NRP
members would participate, although the NRP has not yet
requested RGC permission to stage a demonstration nor have
they determined a date.

What to Do with the Royals
--------------------------

8. (SBU) Coincident with Ranariddh's legal problems has
been renewed public discussion and debate over the future
role of Cambodian royal family members in politics -- a topic
that continues to emerge and recede in the news. Most
recently, the PM has publicly discussed the possibility of
the royals being excluded from running for political office
in exchange for pensions and charitable roles as public
figures in support of government activities. Prince Sisowath
Thomico claims that the CPP efforts to remove royals from
politics are geared towards symbolically eliminating former
King Sihanouk's influence in Cambodia's political affairs as
well as getting rid of the royals before the 2008 national
elections. It would also lower the profile of royal family
members in Cambodian life, and the public would disassociate
royals from politics, said Thomico. The former personal
secretary to former King Sihanouk told us that he should not

SIPDIS
be prevented from serving his country, and Cambodia needs all
its citizens, royal family members included, to run for
office if they have something to contribute.

9. (SBU) NRP officials have said that Ranariddh would
simply renounce his title and continue his political life as
a private citizen if the CPP tries to legislate the royal
family members out of politics. To date, FUNCINPEC MPs have
been silent as to whether they continue to support the party
or have shifted their allegiance to Ranariddh in order to
retain their positions in the National Assembly. Commune
counselors, on the other hand, were forced to declare in
advance of the April 1 elections, fearing that they would
lose their re-election bid if they ran under the FUNCINPEC
banner against a Ranariddh candidate. However, the national
elections in 2008 will force the MPs to decide, and the NRP
estimates that roughly two-thirds of the FUNCINPEC MPs will
likely go with Ranariddh if the NRP does reasonably well in
the commune elections. For that reason, they say, FUNCINPEC
will probably insist on a show of hands in the near future
and replace Ranariddh loyalists with Nhek Bun Chhay
favorites.

PHNOM PENH 00000310 003 OF 003

Comment
-------

10. (SBU) The PM's tactics of using politically motivated
lawsuits to undermine the political opposition and keep its
leaders out of the country is a tried and true formula,
having worked most recently against Sam Rainsy for much of
2005. At that time and as a coalition partner in the
government with the CPP, Ranariddh and FUNCINPEC were happy
to see their political rival weakened and unable to return to
Cambodia. Ironically, with Rainsy back in Hun Sen's good
graces and Ranariddh on the outs, the tables have turned.
Rainsy, however, has no sympathy for Ranariddh and hopes that
his party will benefit from the NRP leader's woes on April 1.
While the CPP would also welcome new voters, observers
generally agree that the CPP's primary aim in keeping
Ranariddh out of the country is to help FUNCINPEC retain as
much of its dwindling political support as possible. The PM
announced in December 2006 that the CPP would retain
FUNCINPEC as a coalition partner following the 2008 elections
(assuming a CPP majority), hoping that the promise of
continued public sector employment would be an added
incentive to FUNCINPEC loyalists to stay with the party
following the unexpected wave of defections to the NRP for
the commune elections. End Comment.
MUSSOMELI

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