A former US ambassador to the UN and a late New York state assemblyman were among four men found guilty in absentia yesterday and sentenced to a year each in prison for defrauding a local businesswoman out of $1 million in 2012.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court also ordered the four – American businessmen San Richer and Thomas Willems, former UN envoy Siv Sichan and Assemblyman William Nojay – to return the $1 million to complainant Eng Lykuong and pay an additional fine of 300 million riel, or about $73,000.
“At last I have justice. I am satisfied because I got justice and am not thinking about the money anymore,” said Lykuong. Lykuong alleged that she invested $1 million in a rice venture called Akra Agriculture Partners in return for a position on its board of directors, but was never appointed and never saw her money again.
Despite his death in September of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a Rochester, New York, cemetery, Nojay was sentenced all the same as his lawyer had failed to produce the required documentation, said judge Svay Tonh.
Nojay’s lawyer, Mon Keosivin, yesterday said he would appeal the case, maintaining that Lykuong had not been defrauded. Sichan and Richer’s lawyer, Kheng Ly, said he would consult his clients before deciding to file an appeal.
Attention now shifts to a civil lawsuit filed by Lykuong in the US District Court in San Antonio, Texas, where she is suing the four men along with Richer’s wife, San Sithea, in a civil case seeking the return of her million dollar investment as well as damages.
According to that lawsuit, filed on October 7, Richer approached Eng to invest in the agricultural startup in 2012, asking her to fill in the “final” $1 million in the $4 million needed to start Akra. However, unbeknownst to Eng, hers was the only investment in the firm and was deposited in a bank account under Nojay’s name instead of an escrow account.
The agreement, the suit alleges, stated that funds collected could be disbursed only if investments reached $1.5 million, but the accused went ahead and spent $625,000 on rent, vehicles, labour and administrative costs at a company office in Phnom Penh.
Several months after her investment, Lykuong was informed that Richer and Sichan had quit the company, and on expressing her concern to Willems, she was informed via email that the firm had made “significant progress” and that he would brief her on his return to the capital.
“Eng demanded a refund of her money, which Akra has refused to provide. In short, Eng was scammed by Defendants out of $1 million,” the lawsuit reads.
Lykuong said she wanted to file the suit last year but got held up because she couldn’t find a US-based attorney to assist her.
“The Cambodian court was not clear and believed the company [Akra] was still operating. We wanted to find more evidence to show the Cambodian court,” she added.