Patrick Devillers, the French national and associate of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai, seemed to be putting down roots in Cambodia.
The architect – whose shadowy presence has been on the fringes of one of modern China’s largest political scandals – owned land and a restaurant in Kep, according to friends and neighbours, and recently extended the lease on his home, planning both an addition to his house and an expansion of his business in Cambodia.
However, with his arrest by Cambodian authorities at China’s behest, Devillers’ future is in diplomatic limbo as Cambodia weighs the legality of extraditing a French citizen to face unspecified charges in China.
Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith yesterday acknowledged the complications inherent in extraditing a foreign national to a country other than their own.
“The arrest was made at the request of China, but Patrick Deviller is not a Chinese citizen, he is French,” he said. “Therefore, we have to wait for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to examine the legality of the affair before we make the decision. We have to wait and see.”
According to its extradition treaty with China, which went into effect in July 2000, the Cambodian government has 60 days to “wait and see”.
After that, the document says, “if the proposed country did not provide the official extradition request or any support documents related to the requested person”, the detainee must be released.
A security guard who worked in the neighbourhood told the Post he was on duty the night Devillers was arrested, which he estimated to be more than a week ago. He described seeing several Cambodian policemen come to Devillers’ house, followed shortly thereafter by two Westerners.
About 20 minutes later, he said, Devillers was taken away.
“I have never seen him again, and I don’t know where he has gone,” said the guard, who declined to be named.
Devillers’ whereabouts are still unknown to all but a select few. A Post reporter who sought to meet with him at a Ministry of Immigration holding facility was told to wait for Devillers before being told moments later that he was not in custody there.
Representatives of the French Embassy said yesterday that they have been in contact with Devillers, and visited him to offer “consular protection”, but refused to disclose his location or offer further comment.
Friend and fellow French national Dimitri Bouvet said he saw Devillers last on June 13, and businessman Pierre Yves Clais, another friend, corroborated the date, saying he thought it to be the last time anyone saw Devillers.
According to Clais, Devillers had recently met with a pair of Cambodians who had expressed interest in buying some of his land in Kep.
“He was invited to lunch by Chinese-speaking Cambodians and then he disappeared,” Clais said.
The date coincided with a visit to Cambodia from He Guoqiang, head of China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, an agency that polices corruption among China’s highest-ranking officials, and is therefore considered likely to be handling Bo Xilai’s case.
He was in town to attend a signing ceremony for a $430 million loan from China to Cambodia to be used for public works and infrastructure improvements.
A neighbour and former landlady of Devillers who also declined to be named called him a friendly type, who kept his affairs largely to himself.
“I knew that he can speak Chinese very well, and he told me that he used to have some business in China before he came to Cambodia. I don’t know whether he has a wife here, because normally I saw him travel alone,” she said. “I don’t know what he has done wrong. I knew him to be a polite man.”