A weapons procurer for the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and close adviser to deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh said Monday there was nothing abnormal about the arms shipment for which the prince was convicted last Wednesday.
Secretary of State for Defense Ek Sereywath, who is self-exiled in Bangkok, said the illegal arms-shipment conviction was based on a fabricated story.
The Military Court on Wednesday sentenced Prince Ranariddh in absentia to five years in prison for illegally purchasing and transporting arms on May 26 last year. Also convicted were resistance General Nhiek Bun Chhay and the prince’s chief bodyguard, Thach Suong.
Although none of the accused mounted a defense at the trial, Ek Sereywath disputed the charge, saying the container had all the proper paperwork and was sent through normal channels.
“The weapons came through the port of Kompong Som in the most legal way via the only sea-port…in the country and with all the legal documents on its container,” he said in a two-page statement.
As for the label on the container describing the contents as “spare parts,” which prosecutors used as evidence the prince was trying to import the weapons illegally, Ek Sereywath said this was a common practice to speed shipments through European countries.
“In the past, we have bought arms and ammunition from Asian-friendly countries which were labeled ‘Screw’ on the containers. I would like to point out that kind of practice is quite common for dangerous goods like ammunitions or heavy weapons.”
The shipment included pistols, sub-machine guns, rocket propelled grenade launchers and ammunition, the statement said.
Ek Sereywath said the shipment was inspected by the port authority and Chin Chan Por, chief of military police in Sihanoukville, on May 25.
The shipment was then transferred by air on May 26 to Pochentong Airport, where it was inspected by Mol Roeup, senior military adviser to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, and Brigadier-General Chao Phirun, a senior CPP officer in charge of procurement, according to Ek Sereywath.
The shipment was distributed to Prince Ranariddh’s bodyguards with the approval of co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh and Hun Sen, said Ek Sereywath, adding that “the rocket propellers and one launcher were sent to the Ministry of Defense warehouse.”
Chao Phirun confirmed Monday that he inspected the shipment and sent the small arms through to be distributed to the prince’s bodyguards, but disputed the number of seized rocket launchers.
He said the number of grenade launchers was much higher and described a standoff on May 28 between CPP military officials, Nhiek Bun Chhay and Thach Suong over the heavy weapons at Pochentong Airport. He said negotiations at the airport for the release of the confiscated weapons nearly turned violent, with soldiers on both sides squaring off over the arms.
Mol Roeup could not be reached for comment.
Ek Sereywath also slammed the court proceedings, saying the tribunal was controlled by the CPP. He also said the judge at the trial, Ney Thol, was a one-star general and therefore had no right to try Prince Ranariddh, who is a four-star general.
(Additional reporting by Touch Rotha)
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