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Tycoon Polonsky back in custody

Russian real-estate tycoon Sergei Polonsky is escorted by authorities during his arrest in Preah Sihanouk province yesterday.
Russian real-estate tycoon Sergei Polonsky is escorted by authorities during his arrest in Preah Sihanouk province yesterday. STRINGER

Tycoon Polonsky back in custody

Following a request from Russia for his extradition, eccentric property tycoon Sergei Polonsky was arrested on an island off Sihanoukville yesterday, authorities and one of his employees said.

Police said the 40-year-old was detained on charges of embezzlement over a failed $176 million construction project in Russia, but gave no details of any plans to extradite him.

“We’re now implementing the arrest,” said Y Sok Khy, director of the Ministry of Interior’s anti-terrorist department, who worked with police in Preah Sihanouk to apprehend Polonsky. “We are at Koh Dek Koul, where he [Polonsky] resides. His arrest is in relation to the embezzlement of millions of dollars in Russia.”

One of Polonsky’s employees, who asked not be named, told the Post that the businessman was arrested at Koh Rong, an island close to where he was detained in late December for alleged violence against six boatmen.

“Mr Polonsky was arrested at Koh Rong, where was travelling, and police brought him back to Koh Dek Koul. He was handcuffed,” he said. “Police questioned him and searched his house.… He’s now being transferred to Phnom Penh.”

National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith would not confirm whether Cambodia – which has no extradition agreement with Russia – would send Polonsky back to his country to face charges.

“We’ve arrested him following a request from Russia,” he said. “Regarding the extradition, we’ll let the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs work on that.”

Sam Prachea Manith, director of the minister’s cabinet at the Ministry of Justice, said he was not aware of the arrest, while Koy Kuong, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, could not be reached.

Polonsky, reported to be a billionaire before the global financial crisis, is the former owner of property firm Mirax, which ceased operations in 2011.

A warrant for the tycoon’s arrest in Russia was issued in August. In recent days, his details have appeared on Interpol’s website.

Polonsky was one of three Russians arrested in late December for allegedly threatening six boatmen with a knife and ordering them overboard near Koh Rong. The trio spent months in Sihanoukville prison awaiting trial, even after the boatmen agreed to drop the charges in exchange for $20,000.

They were released on bail in April on the condition that they regularly report to authorities. Polonsky, however, has since spent time in Israel.

Provincial court director Mong Monichakrua said yesterday that he was not sure how Polonsky’s arrest would affect his trial in Cambodia.

“I can’t predict that,” he said.

The arrest came days after Polonsky posted videos on his Facebook proclaiming his innocence and making a raft of allegations, including that a “corrupt” official was trying to extort money from him to block his extradition.

In a video posted on Friday, an acquaintance of Polonsky’s is seen negotiating with the “official” – allegedly named Bunthalom – while the Russian businessman parades around in a white towel in the background.

As talks progress, Polonsky moves towards the camera, commandeers the phone and enters discussions himself.

In a written post on Facebook the next day, Polonsky says Bunthalom warned him it would be a “question of life and death for me if I don’t pay him the money”. Russian media has reported the figure to be $1 million.

“This official is the same person who is in charge of obtaining signatures for my arrest without trial,” Polonsky wrote. “In addition to that, Russian special forces have arrived to Cambodia … [and] newly appointed Ambassador of Russia, instead of meeting me, is threatening the Cambodian government for an urgent release of the document concerning my arrest.”

Russian media has reported that its government rejected efforts by the businessman to secure a plea bargain.

An official at the Russian embassy in Phnom Penh declined to comment yesterday. “All information is on the site of the Russian embassy,” he said.

As of last night, however, the site contained no information about Polonsky’s arrest.

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