Agriculture Firm Fraud Case Draws to a Close

Cambodian-American businessman Richer San, one of four men accused of defrauding a Phnom Penh dentist of $1 million, sat alone at the stand in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday as lawyers delivered their closing arguments.

The other three defendants—Siv Sichan, a former U.S. envoy to the U.N.; William Nojay, a New York state assemblyman; and Thomas Willems, an American businessman and former NGO director—were tried in absentia.

In a nearly four-hour hearing to conclude the trial against the four men, the lawyer for dentist Eng Lykuong claimed that his client was conned into investing $1 million in Akra Agricultural Partners, a development firm that has yet to get off the ground.

Mr. San and the three defense lawyers at the hearing argued that Ms. Lykuong still held shares in the company, which had every in­tention of becoming operational, and that her complaint constituted a dispute be­tween shareholders and did not belong in a criminal court.

However, deputy prosecutor Khieu Phalla recommended that the men be charged with fraud, a crime punishable by up to three years in prison.

Ms. Lykuong’s lawyer, Orn Hing, said that Mr. San was the point-person for the firm in soliciting his client’s investment, and had done so through deceit.

While Mr. San insists that he was merely an employee of the firm, Mr. Hing said that he pitched himself to Ms. Lykuong as a founding partner, telling her that an investment of $1 million would help her secure residency in the U.S.

“[Richer San] advised my client to deposit money into the account” belonging to Akra, Mr. Hing said. “He said that he was among the partnership of four people.”

“Where did the money go?” Mr. Hing asked.

Taking the stand, Mr. San said that he merely followed the or­ders of his boss, Mr. Willems.

“I was staff. I do not have the right to sign anything and I just followed my boss’ orders,” he said.

Asked if he recalled sending an introductory email to Ms. Ly­kuong, Mr. San said: “It was just contact information and I do not remember everything.”

Kheng Ly, a lawyer for Mr. San, said his client was not privy to Akra’s financial records, and therefore could not be held accountable for how money was being spent.

“There is no evidence to show that my client committed fraud. Please judge, acquit my client of the charges,” he said.

Ing Keriya, an attorney for Mr. Willems, said that Akra was properly registered in the U.S. and that Ms. Lykuong still held shares in the company, thus making her fraud claims erroneous.

“He had no intent to cheat Eng Lykuong, who still has shares,” Mr. Keriya said, adding that the dispute should be tried as a civil case, rather than criminal fraud.
“The important thing is wheth­er this company is still operating or not,” he said.

Herve Lacorne, a Phnom Penh-based businessman who testified on behalf of Mr. Willems, said Akra Agricultural Partners was a viable business model that was now hamstrung by the criminal case brought by Ms. Lykuong.

“Right now it is not operating, because of this lawsuit. No invest­or will work with a company that has a big issue,” he told the court, add­ing that Mr. Wil­lems, his friend, had recently met with Mex­ican investors about po­tentially exporting mangos through Akra.

“I think there are opportunities to continue,” he said. “But the project is on hold until this case is resolved.”

Presiding Judge Svay Tonh said a verdict in the case would be handed down on July 29.

Following the hearing, Mr. San said he and his partners in Akra had no intention to hurt anyone, but rather set up the firm to help develop Cambodia.

“If the shareholders did not follow the plan, they should have a civil case,” he said.

Mr. San said that Mr. Hing, the plaintiff’s lawyer, had been witness to numerous agreements signed by Ms. Lykuong as she became involved in Akra, and that his claims to the court on Friday were deceitful.

“I am going to sue him,” Mr. San said as he left the courthouse. “Because he is the one who messed up the whole thing.”

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