Boatmen Drop Complaint Against Russian Businessman

The alleged victims of an assault by businessman Sergei Polonsky and two other Russians last month off the coast of Preah Sihanouk province have dropped their complaint after accepting compensation, a lawyer for the victims said yesterday. 

The news came as the Russian Foreign Ministry called for Cambodia to ensure a “thorough and objective” investigation is conducted into the case.

Mr. Polonsky, 40, and fellow Russians Konstantin Baglay and Alexander Karachinsky, who were still in detention and still facing charges yesterday, were arrested on December 30 after a run-in with military police.

They were charged last week with intentional violence for allegedly threatening six Cambodian workers on their boat with a knife and forcing them to jump overboard. Military police said they apprehended them only after firing warning shots and giving chase to the Russians’ boat.

Ouch Sopheaktra, a lawyer for the six Cambodians, said his clients had accepted compensation.

“The workers demanded $5,000 each for compensation, but finally the Russians agreed to pay $20,000 for all six workers,” he said.

“I already withdrew the complaint from the court but the three Russians are still facing the charges.”

Mr. Sopheaktra said the workers would not give evidence against Mr. Polonsky and his compatriots.

“My job is already done,” he said.

Provincial prison chief Sam Sophal said the Russians were still in a pretrial detention facility.

Mr. Polonsky, apparently sorry for fellow detainees suffering from a lack of ventilation, had arranged to have more than 10 electric fans brought to the prison in a tuk-tuk, Mr. Sophal said. However, the prison chief said he had refused to allow the fans to be used because of “internal regulations,” and in order to save electricity.

Mr. Polonsky moved last year to Koh Dek Kuol, a tiny private island that he owns in partnership with the owners of the Snake House Hotel and Restaurant in Sihanoukville.

Pheng Phoeun, a manager at the Snake House who negotiated the compensation on behalf of the six workers, confirmed that a deal had been reached between the two parties.

“Each worker received $1,000 for damages and the rest of the money I used to pay for the lawyer and everything,” he said, declining to elaborate on what he meant by “everything.”

In statements online, Mr. Polonsky has denied the charges and said the incident was a simple misunderstanding.

In a statement posted on its website late Wednesday, the information department at the Russian Foreign Ministry said it was closely monitoring the case.

“Given the gravity of the accusations, we believe it necessary [for Cambodian authorities] to conduct a thorough and objective investigation, and to clarify all the circumstances of the incident,” the statement said.

The statement also said that the Russian Embassy in Phnom Penh was in “constant contact with the Cambodia authorities to protect the rights and interests of our citizens.”

The message was sent to the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Russian statement added.

Mr. Polonsky has reportedly sold his stake in Potok, the more recent name for Mirax, the real estate company he founded. Mirax was a multibillion dollar corporation with interests in Moscow and elsewhere until it was hit hard by the global financial crisis.

The Russian Ministry of Interior has announced that it has launched a fraud investigation into unnamed employees of the company, and disgruntled investors have called for Russian authorities to seek Mr. Polonsky’s extradition.

Mr. Polonsky became well known outside of Russia in 2010 when he was punched on live television by Russian media mogul Alexander Lebedev, who owns The Independent and the London Evening Standard. The two oligarchs are engaged in court battles in Moscow and London.

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