THE government is locked in a legal dispute with
Funcinpec leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh over ownership
of the Prince's $1m-plus Dauphin helicopter.
The cost of the case could be upwards of half a
million dollars at a time when Cambodia is sliding into
further poverty and, for many, starvation.
The government will drop the case, Attorney-General
Kao Bun Hong says, if Ranariddh agrees to join a
coalition with the CPP.
Bun Hong has made several recent trips to a Singapore
court to file papers explaining why Ranariddh's
helicopter impounded there should be Cambodian state
Storage fees, rising by the day, and full repair and
maintenance costs for the helicopter will reach upwards
of $500,000, it is estimated. Tens of thousands of
dollars or more will have to be spent on legal fees and
"Don't you think they'd [all] find something
better to spend this money on?" one source asked.
The Dauphin is the most expensive and luxurious of the
three aircraft Ranariddh privately owns.
Meanwhile Hun Sen, for his part, is most interested in
seeing the case continued, insiders say - something
surely pricking at the Prince who is a keen aviation
Bun Hong told the Post Oct 28: "This case will be
cancelled if Samdech Krom Preah [Ranariddh] agrees with
the CPP to set up a government." He said that the
dispute had not yet come to trial but was instead only in
the preparation phase of filing evidence and proofs.
He mentioned that the Sing-aporean company contracted
by the government to repair and store the Dauphin
"had filed to the court to see who should keep the
[aircraft]" - and who too will probably be left with
the big bill: the government, or the Prince. "The
cost is a lot," Bun Hong said, without exactly
elaborating, "... the loser will pay."
The government has petitioned the court to have the
case transfered to Cambodia, the attorney-general said.
However, that decision had not yet been made.
"If Ranariddh doesn't trust the Cambodian courts,
he [does] trust his father, the King," Bun Hong
The helicopter was bought by Ranariddh just before
July last year.
He already had a French-made TB-10 trainer and a
Cessna 420 twin-engined commuter.
The Dauphin came into the government's posession when,
after the coup, Funcinpec loyalists tried to fly it and
three other aircraft from Phnom Penh to Thailand. They
got to Banteay Meanchey but the Thais refused them
permission to enter their airspace. The aircraft were
seized by local military and returned to Phnom Penh,
where the Dauphin was painted in camoflague colors and
used by the government. About six months ago the
helicopter was sent to Singapore for a major overhaul.
Since then the legal row has blown up as the Prince
tries to secure that which one aviation source said was
unquestionably his personal property.