Authorities in Cambodia have arrested fugitive Russian property tycoon Sergei Polonsky and five of his compatriots for alleged immigration violations, an official said Friday, amid pressure from Moscow to deport him.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Kuy Kuong told RFA’s Khmer Service that navy personnel and military police worked jointly to arrest Polonsky, 42, and five other Russians Friday on the island of Koh Damlong, located off the coast of southwestern Cambodia’s Sihanoukville province.
“We arrested six Russians because they overstayed their visas,” he said.
“Once their visas expired, it meant that they were staying illegally in Cambodia. When the immigration law is breached, we act on it. This is a normal implementation of the law … and we will deport them.”
Kuy Kuong noted that Cambodia had also recently deported Chinese and Vietnamese nationals when they overstayed their visas.
He made no mention of whether the arrests were linked to a request by the Russian government to deport Polonsky, who Moscow has labeled a fugitive.
Polonsky stands accused in Russia of embezzling some U.S. $114 million in down payments from prospective buyers of a luxury residential complex in Moscow that was never built—charges he denies.
Russian prosecutors filed the charges in absentia in 2013, but Polonsky has so far contested extradition proceedings.
A military police officer who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity said the six Russians were flown to the capital Phnom Penh after their arrest and will be detained at the Immigration Department pending their expulsion.
He said their arrest was based on “an order from top government officials,” without elaborating.
Cambodia’s Supreme Court ruled in April 2014 that Polonsky could not be extradited because of the lack of an extradition treaty between Moscow and Phnom Penh.
However, Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked the Ministry of Justice to review Moscow’s request to extradite Polonsky in an April 20 letter ahead of an upcoming trip by Prime Minister Hun Sen, Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong to Russia.
The letter also referenced the two countries’ relationship following a visit by Hor Namhong to Moscow in March, during which he discussed inking an extradition treaty with Russian counterparts.
Once ranked by Forbes as one of the richest men in Russia with a fortune valued at U.S. $4.35 billion, Polonsky has been living on Koh Dek Koul—one of eight private islands he owns off the coast of Sihanoukville province.
The tycoon still faces local charges of intentional violence and illegal detention in Cambodia related to an altercation with a local boat crew in late 2012, during which he is alleged to have threatened six people with a knife and forced them to jump overboard near his island.
He has also been embroiled in a long-running property dispute in Sihanoukville with his former business partner Nikolai Doroshenko, a Russian expatriate in Cambodia.
In March, police arrested Doroshenko, who owns the Snake House Hotel in Sihanoukville, after he refused to attend a court hearing on charges of forging documents, based on a complaint filed by Polonsky. Doroshenko’s son has accused Polonksy of paying bribes to keep his father in jail.
At the time of Doroshenko’s arrest, Khun Savoeun, provincial coordinator of local rights group Adhoc, welcomed the move, but urged authorities to prosecute any foreigners found to be provoking security issues in Sihanoukville.
He pointed to several recent crimes in the province, including arson and shootings, which had involved foreigners, and Russian expatriates in particular.
In February, police said a group of Russians opened fire on a Turkish national’s vehicle in Sihanoukville, leaving one Cambodian bystander with a bullet wound to his leg.
The attack came weeks after three people were injured, one with a stab wound, after a violent brawl broke out between allegedly rival Russian gangs at Sihanoukville’s Queenco hotel.
Reported by Den Ayuthyea for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.