Cambodia’s official Anti-Corruption Unit has demanded that the former spokesman for late King Norodom Sihanouk declare his assets or face legal action in a move he says is retribution for his decision to join the country’s opposition party ahead of upcoming national elections.
The investigative Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), which critics have accused of being linked to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), sent the orders on Monday to Prince Sisowath Thomico, King Sihanouk’s nephew and longtime private secretary.
Prince Thomico has drawn criticism from Prime Minister Hun Sen since joining the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) last month. The CNRP is preparing to challenge Hun Sen’s ruling CPP in July 28 national elections.
In a letter obtained by RFA’s Khmer Service, Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) chief and senior minister Om Yentieng ordered Prince Thomico to turn over a list of his financial holdings within a week or face imprisonment.
“The ACU would like to warn Prince Thomico that if you refuse to declare your assets and debt within one week from the date of this letter, a lawsuit will be filed against you,” Om Yentieng, who is also advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen, wrote in the letter.
“The unit would like to remind you that if you fail to properly respond as required by Article 38 of the Anti-Corruption Law, you will be punished with a term of imprisonment between one month and one year, a fine of at least 100,000 riel (U.S. $25), and you will still be forced to declare your assets.”
Prince Thomico would face double the penalty if he failed to produce a list of his assets a second time after receiving the letter, Om Yentieng wrote.
According to the letter, all members of Cambodia’s royal family and their staff were required to report their assets and 148 people had already complied. It said the ACU had already requested that the prince declare his holdings twice before Monday’s notification.
Prince Thomico told RFA’s Khmer Service that he believes the ACU is targeting him in an effort to destroy his political career.
He said that he had refused to comply with the ACU’s request because, as a member of the royal family, he was not subject to the laws of the Cambodian government.
“The ACU is simply a political tool,” he said.
“The monarchy is independent and does not fall under the purview of the government.”
Hun Sen last week lashed out at the prince, saying his decision to align himself with the opposition would destroy Cambodia’s monarchy.
Since 2011, declarations of assets must be made every two years by government and military officers starting at the levels of department chiefs and colonels.
Lawmakers are also required to make declarations along with commune, province, city, and district councilors as well as heads of civil society organizations. Around 23,000 officials are required to do so.
Earlier this year, Hun Sen declared his assets to the ACU and ordered government officials to do the same before a Jan. 31 deadline, noting that late declarations would be punished.
But opposition leaders and graft watchdogs have called on the ACU to allow public access to declaration documents in order to establish a system of checks and balances. They say that in Cambodian society, the wives and children of government officials often keep assets in their names.
The requirement that Cambodian officials declare their assets every two years came into effect as part of an anti-graft law introduced in March 2010, which also led to the creation of an anti-corruption council and the ACU to oversee investigations.
Critics have argued that the bodies are ineffective as they do not operate independently from the government and those overseeing them have poor track records.
Anti-graft organization Transparency International ranked Cambodia 157th worst out of 176 countries in its 2012 corruption perception index, released in December last year.
Before joining the CNRP, Prince Thomico served as a main adviser to his uncle, the beloved former King Sihanouk, who died at the age of 89 in October after suffering a heart attack at a hospital in Beijing.
Reported by Vohar Cheat for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.