The Cambodian Court of Appeal yesterday suspended a Russian extradition request for former real estate tycoon Sergei Polonsky and ordered his immediate release from detention, his defence attorney said yesterday.
According to defender Benson Samay, Polonsky – who is wanted on charges of “large-scale fraud” in his native Russia – must first face charges of intentional violence in a Cambodian court for allegedly threatening six boatmen with a knife off the coast of Sihanoukville.
It is unclear whether Polonsky may still face extradition in the future, and both presiding judge Seng Sivutha and prosecutor Heang Rith declined to comment on yesterday’s hearing, saying it was confidential.
Though his client would still have to face charges in Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court, Samay reiterated both Polonsky’s innocence and the amount of money he planned to invest in the country.
“He cannot be extradited to Russia at this time, so he will stay in Cambodia. He brings millions of dollars for investment in Cambodia. He never committed a crime anywhere in the world,” Samay told reporters.
“He is a generous man; he is not a criminal. And I will find a [Cambodian] wife for him,” he added.
Forbes magazine pegged Polonsky’s wealth at $1.2 billion in 2008, but he was reported to have lost the lion’s share of that during the global financial crisis.
Polonsky himself smiled as he strode into the courtroom yesterday and, after the brief hearing, echoed his lawyer’s claims about his Cambodian investment plans.
“I would like to start a project in Cambodia with a development of millions of dollars on islands, big projects,” he said. “I’m staying in Cambodia.”
Samay brushed aside concerns about his client’s Cambodian charges, saying the punishment would be light.
“He’s still awaiting trial at the Preah Sihanouk provincial court, but it is a minor crime, not a serious crime,” Samay said.
In Russia, Polonsky has been charged with embezzling $176 million and could reportedly face up to 10 years in prison there. Polonsky’s Cambodian charge of intentional violence, on the other hand, could draw a sentence of two to five years in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
Progress on the case, however, has been stalled for months. He was first arrested on January 3, 2013, after he and two others allegedly forced six boatmen overboard with a knife off the coast of Sihanoukville, where Polonsky owns an island.
The boatmen ultimately accepted a combined $20,000, and withdrew their complaints, but Polonsky remained in jail until he was released in April on bail. Despite being forbidden from leaving the country, he travelled to Israel, where he reportedly sought citizenship before returning to Cambodia in August ahead of a Russian extradition request.
He was arrested in Cambodia again over the extradition request in November, and despite still technically being out on bail after his release yesterday for the year-old intentional violence charges, Preah Sihanouk provincial judge Svay Tonh, who will hear the case, said that he has not yet set a date for the trial.
Russian embassy officials were not available for comment.