An Australian businessman who once fronted a telecommunications firm in Cambodia has been sent to Prey Sar prison on fraud charges in a case one of his associates said was triggered by a disgruntled partner in a failed business venture.
Frank May, 63, the former chief operating officer of the telecommunications firm Emaxx, was arrested and charged on December 8, according to Phnom Penh Municipal Court investigating Judge Phou Povson.
“Frank May was charged with forging a document and using a forged document,” he said, without elaborating.
Details around Mr. May’s arrest are far from clear. But Yin Wengka, who said he was a lawyer for the company that is a plaintiff in the case, said Mr. May altered a document to make his bank balance $1,000,000, when he only had about $1,000 in the account.
“I cannot give the name of the company [that made the complaint] but Frank May forged a document changing the amount from $1,000 to $1,000,000,” Mr. Wengka said.
However, Leon Carr, an associate and a friend trying to clear Mr. May’s name, said Mr. May had done nothing wrong and that he believed that the arrest was linked to a joint venture that was aborted last year by Mr. May with a company named Primavera Capital Group Limited and businessman Robert s’Jacob.
“Mr. Frank May was in a potential transaction with Jacob that turned sour. Jacob has made threats to Mr. May and based on my understanding, Mr. May does not have any enemies in Phnom Penh other than Jacob,” he said.
Mr. Carr said he believed that Mr. s’Jacob had complained to Mr. May’s local bank about Mr. May’s alleged attempt to falsify the amount of money in his bank account.
A spokesman for the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh declined to comment.
Mr. May entered the business scene in Cambodia back in 2011 as head of Digital Star Media, which ran the mobile firm Emaxx. Venturing into the heavily oversaturated telecommunications market, Mr. May announced the country’s first 4G mobile telephone network and also announced an ambitious project to roll out Internet connections to schools across the country.
Mr. May has since left his post at Emaxx, and his incarceration appears to have stemmed from a deal he embarked upon last year with his new company, Signature Capital.
According to correspondence seen this week, Mr. May and Mr. s’Jacob were in discussions beginning in May 2011 to take over management of a power plant in Cambodia.
But the relationship between Mr. May and Mr. s’Jacob deteriorated as the power plant deal stalled. In one email, Mr. May asks Mr. s’Jacob: “Let[’s] stop playing games. Is [Primavera] willing to move forward or not?”
Mr. s’Jacob told a reporter that he was “not seeking publicity” and was not involved in the complaint against Mr. May. He also said he could provide documents to prove that Mr. May had admitted to defrauding him and had apologized to him.
But after Mr. s’Jacob asked to meet a reporter, he failed to show up at a scheduled time, sending instead a Cambodian representative of Primavera named Sam Tang.
Mr. Tang declined to provide his business card or share any details about the company—except that it was from the U.S. and does not have an office in Cambodia. He said Primavera had nothing to do with Mr. May’s arrest, but had been asked by Vattanac Bank to provide documents about Mr. May.
“We have no interest in engaging with Mr. Frank May [since] eight months ago, so I don’t think it appropriate for us to want to know about Frank’s [arrest],” he said.
“They asked us to see the evidence,” he said of Vattanac Bank. “They know about Frank May as well because we, you know, we were just having some sort of meeting with the Vattanac people in terms of other things, and they requested us to see [the document].
“We are the straight people. We do things straight,” he added.
Calls to officials at Vattanac Bank were never returned.
Documents sent to Mr. May by Primavera while they were negotiating the power plant deal purport to show that Mr. s’Jacob is backed by large sums of money.
An April 2008 letter from the Singapore-based law firm Baker & McKenzie.Wong & Leow and addressed to the United Overseas Bank (UOB) states that Mr. s’Jacob is related to the last ruling family of Czarist Russia.
“Dr. s’Jacob is the son of AJ s’Jacob Pelle and Irina Federovna, Princess Romanova. He is one of 4 beneficiaries of the Romanov Des Jacob Trust, a trust set up by his late mother,” the document states, referring to the Romanov family, the last ruling family of Czarist Russia.
Mr. s’Jacob is also a descendent of two governor-generals of Indonesia under Dutch colonial rule and had set up the “Cristal Caritas Trust to support the arts in Singapore,” according to the letter.
Approached about the letter, Edmund Leow, a partner at Baker & McKenzie.Wong & Leow, said in an email that the lawyer who dealt with Mr. s’Jacob had left the firm, so he could not vouch for the information.
“The letter was intended only for UOB in 2008, and as the letter states, contained information from Mr. s’Jacob. The letter should not be used by any other party for any other purpose,” he said.
Mr. s’Jacob said he only provided the letter after requests from Mr. May, who had approached him to do business together.
“I can see that it may have been imprudent to give [the letter] to Mr. May,” Mr. s’Jacob said.