A press conference organized Thursday by Sergei Polonsky at Phnom Penh’s PJ prison—where the Russian oligarch is awaiting extradition to Moscow to stand trial on embezzlement charges—did not go according to plan.
“Tomorrow, November 14, 2013, at 15:00 local time, a press conference will be held at the city jail in Phnom Penh,” Mr. Polonsky wrote in Russian on his Facebook account on Wednesday, his first post since he was arrested.
Mr. Polonksy had been living on a private island off the coast of Sihanoukville before being arrested Monday at the request of authorities in Moscow, where the ex-billionaire was charged in absentia in July with embezzling $176 million from some 80 investors in an unfinished residential development.
At about 2:30 p.m. Thursday, a small group of local and Russian reporters—including a three-man television crew from the state-owned Russia 1 channel—arrived at the minimum-security PJ Prison in Sen Sok district and were instructed by police to wait at a picnic table across the road from the detention facility.
Just after 3 p.m., five friends and employees of Mr. Polonsky showed up with bags of food for the incarcerated oligarch and were permitted inside the prison, along with his lawyer, Ros Sitha.
But police did not allow any reporters inside, and those at the scene were forced to do with occasional glimpses of Mr. Polonksy’s blond curls bobbing above a razor-wire-topped fence as he paced in the prison yard, conversing loudly with his companions and Mr. Sitha.
Reached later by telephone, Mr. Sitha said his client had been angry with him.
“He asked me if I have any updates for him. I said no. He said I was not competent enough to work for him,” Mr. Sitha said.
“The meeting was useless,” he added.
Most of the reporters gave up hope for a real press conference and left the prison by 4 p.m.
But when Mr. Polonsky’s five companions, as well as a freelance video journalist, attempted to leave shortly thereafter, they were detained and questioned for about five hours at the nearby municipal police headquarters.
“Maybe 10 or 15 minutes ago, we were freed,” said Artur Yavorksiy, a Ukrainian employee of Mr. Polonsky, at about 9:30 p.m., adding that Russian Embassy officials had helped extricate them.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, personally went to the prison to vouch for the journalist and secure his release.
PJ Prison director Hou Puthvisal said Thursday Mr. Polonksy’s attempt to hold a press conference at the facility was absurd.
“He’s a suspect in prison…. He cannot do that,” Mr. Puthvisal said.