The high-profile trial of a British entrepreneur charged with fraud was postponed Wednesday after his lawyer cited a conflict of interest and withdrew from the long-running case, two days after a member of the European Parliament used the case to highlight “systematic problems” in Cambodia’s judicial system.
Defendant Gregg Fryett, who is on trial alongside five others accused of forging documents to take control of two plots of land in Banteay Meanchey province, said he was only made aware of his lawyer’s withdrawal the evening before the hearing.
“With all the work that has been done to get to this stage, I am astonished that this has happened at the 11th hour,” Mr. Fryett told reporters shortly after the judge gave him a deadline of November 6 to find new legal representation ahead of the trial’s resumption on November 18.
Tuot Lux, the lawyer, was not present in court and could not be reached for comment.
In a plenary session of the European Parliament on Monday, British member James Carver used his one-minute window to raise the case of Mr. Fryett, whose company, Sustainable Agro Energy (SAE), has also been the subject of an investigation by the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office.
Mr. Carver pointed out that Mr. Fryett was held without trial beyond the limit of 18 months and has now been behind bars for 31 months with no conviction.
The ongoing detention of Mr. Fryett, he said, “questions Cambodia’s reputation by highlighting the systemic problems in the country’s justice system at a time when economic assistance is being afforded to it by both the United Kingdom and the European Union.”
Mr. Fryett and his alleged accomplices have staunchly maintained their innocence, claiming they are collateral damage in a plot by local officials to steal land and machinery from International Green Energy, the Cambodian arm of SAE whose mission was to establish a biofuel plantation.
A 2012 letter from then-Banteay Meanchey governor Oung Oeun to Prime Minister Hun Sen supports those claims, naming local Forestry Administration chief Vann Sophana, deputy provincial governor Tou Tean Toeu and Ang Mealaktei, the former investigating judge and municipal court director, as collaborators in the plot.