>Cambodia: King Pardons Half-brother

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PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA: Prominent Cambodian politician Prince Norodom Ranariddh (pictured) on Thursday (25 Sept) was granted a pardon for his embezzlement conviction by his half-brother, King Norodom Sihamoni, paving the way for his return from exile.

Ranariddh, who is living in Malaysia, will come home Sunday (28 Sept) to resume his political career, said Suth Dina, a spokesman for the party named after the prince.

The king signed a royal decree pardoning “the convicted person named Norodom Ranariddh, who the court has sentenced to 18 months in prison.”

In July, a Supreme Court judge upheld a lower court’s ruling from last year that found Ranariddh guilty of breach of trust and sentenced him in absentia 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 court also ordered him to pay US$150,000 in compensation to the party.

The Funcinpec party, which ousted Ranariddh as president in October 2006, sued the prince on a charge of embezzling some US$3.6 million from the sale of the party’s headquarters in August that year.

The prince now leads his own Norodom Ranariddh Party, which won two parliamentary seats in this year’s general election two months ago.

His party has said the court ruling was politically motivated. He had been living in exile, mostly in Malaysia, long before the court case was initiated against him.

The prince is “happy” about the pardon, Ouk Phalla, Ranariddh’s consort, said by phone from Malaysia. She declined to elaborate.

It was not clear what prompted the pardon. But local media have recently reported about behind-the-scenes maneuvering between Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government and the prince’s party to end Ranariddh’s legal trouble.

The two politicians are known for having an on-again, off-again political relationship. They once served as co-prime ministers until Hun Sen staged a coup to unseat his rival.

When Ranariddh was still the leader of Funcinpec, Hun Sen encouraged the royalist party’s followers to get rid of the prince for his weak leadership.

Ranariddh fired back, accusing Hun Sen of poking his nose in his business.

The prince and King Sihamoni are sons of former king Norodom Sihanouk.

In a letter to Sihamoni on Thursday, Ranariddh thanked the king for granting him the royal pardon “following intervention” from Hun Sen.

The prince, in a separate letter, also offered “warm congratulations” to his Hun Sen after the country’s parliament endorsed him as the prime minister for another five years. (AP)

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