After more than two years of delay, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday finally pressed ahead with the multimillion-dollar fraud trial of British businessman Gregg Fryett and his four alleged associates over objections from the defendants regarding the lack of preparation for the case.
Despite the accused’s contention that the court could not proceed due to the lack of a suitable English translator (the one provided was an employee of the Anti-Corruption Unit, which investigated the case) and the absence of certain witnesses and one of the accused, judge Chuon Soreasey decided to convene the hearing, saying the trial had been delayed too long already thanks to the defendants’ “wicked intentions”.
The decision prompted Fryett and his lawyers to walk out, though Soreasey maintained that proceedings would continue, one day per week, until the case ended, “even if the accused and their lawyers boycott”.
“The delay in the trial has affected the victims’ interests, because so far they have been waiting for justice and the payment of compensation from the accused,” he said.
In addition to Fryett, the defendants include Cambodian-Americans Um Sam Ang (who was absent due to illness) and Soeun Denny, as well as former Banteay Meanchey Provincial Hall administration chief Ouk Keo Rattanak, lawyer Ty Pov and Major General Hanh Chamrong, a member of the prime minister’s bodyguard unit who is still at large.
According to Soreasey, the defendants were charged by the Banteay Meanchey court with fraud, bribery, faking public documents, using fake documents and clearing and occupying state forests.
Fryett, Soeum and Sam Ang were arrested in early 2013, while the other two were arrested about a year later.
Cambodia began investigating Fryett after the UK Serious Fraud Office froze his assets in 2012.
He was accused of selling pensioners in Britain a stake in land for Cambodian biofuel plantations, then setting up a firm to launder money through a complicated array of fake land deals.
The firm is alleged to have transacted deals with British clients worth more than $11 million.
As he walked out of court yesterday citing a violation of his “fundamental human rights”, Fryett maintained that he had “lost $11 million in investments in Cambodia”.
Victim representative Preab Ther said yesterday that the case’s many plaintiffs were demanding $6.5 million in damages.
The trial will continue on September 30.