The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday ordered that Cambodian-American businessman Richer San be released from prison, where he was being held on serious fraud charges, overturning the Appeal Court’s decision to reject his bail request a week earlier, court officials said Monday.
The decision came after intervention from the U.S. Embassy and with the blessing of Prime Minister Hun Sen, a lawyer in the case said.
Phnom Penh dentist Eng Lykuong accuses Mr. San, along with his three partners—New York State Assemblyman William Nojay, former U.S. envoy to the U.N. Sichan Siv and Texan businessman Thomas Willems—of conning her into investing $1 million in their company, Akra Agricultural Partners Inc.
The 52-year-old Mr. San, who has filed a counter-lawsuit against Ms. Lykuong demanding $1 million in compensation for defamation and false testimony, had already appealed to be released on bail, citing his poor health.
But on October 9, Appeal Court Judge In Vanvibol rejected his request, saying there was too great a risk that the suspect would flee Cambodia as his co-accused, Mr. Siv and Mr. Willems, had already done.
But Mr. San walked free from PJ prison on Thursday after sending a letter to the municipal court earlier that day listing the names of influential friends who had vouched for him and agreed to stump up the $1 million Ms. Lykuong claims she is owed should he escape Cambodia, according to Mon Keosivin, one of his lawyers.
“He wrote a document himself from prison and sent it to the court on the morning of the 16th and was released on the evening of the same day,” Mr. Keosivin said.
“In the letter, he promised he would not flee abroad and will show up to court with his lawyer when the judge needs him, and he attached the names of his friends, including diplomats and prominent businesspeople, who guaranteed to pay the money that he is accused of defrauding if he escapes,” he said.
Mr. Keosivin added that a medical report detailing Mr. San’s kidney problems, high blood pressure and diabetes was also sent to the court on Thursday.
“He is sick and is now at home being taken care of by his family, which can give him medicine regularly,” he said.
Ms. Lykuong’s lawyer, Orn Hing, said he had not seen all of the documents related to Mr. San’s release but had heard that the U.S. Embassy had appealed for him to be freed, a decision also approved by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“I am going to the court tomorrow to obtain the documents, but informally, I learned that the U.S. Embassy contacted the Foreign Ministry here and that [the court] issued a temporary release warrant with endorsement from the prime minister,” Mr. Hing said.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Jay Raman said he could not comment on whether the embassy had worked to secure the release of Mr. San, a U.S. citizen.
According to Ouk Vandeth, program director of legal rights NGO International Bridges for Justice, the municipal court’s decision to release Mr. San on bail after the Appeal Court rejected his bail request violated Cambodian law.
“I don’t know why the municipal court would decide this,” Mr. Vandeth said. “According to law, the defendant does have the right to appeal [the Appeal Court’s decision], but only after one month.”
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers and an associate of Mr. San, sent a letter dated September 3 to the municipal court requesting his friend’s release.
“I am Phay Siphan, a secretary of state at the Council of Ministers, I would like to request that [the Phnom Penh Municipal Court] release Mr. Richer San in order to fulfill the court’s procedure,” he wrote in the letter, offering his “reputation” and “position as a member of government” as a guarantee.
On Monday, Mr. Siphan said the decision to release Mr. San was made by the municipal court, and that he had simply offered a guarantee to the court that his friend and fellow member of the Cambodian-American community would not flee the country should he be released.
“More than 20 people from Cambodian-American society asked me to write on their behalf and I made my own decision to ask that the court to ensure due process and provide fair treatment to Mr. San. I did not order the court to do anything,” he said, adding that media coverage of the case has been biased in favor of Ms. Lykuong.
Ms. Lykuong said Monday she could not comment on Mr. San’s release on bail last week due to the sensitive nature of the case. But she confirmed that she would attend the municipal court hearing on Wednesday to face his counter-lawsuit, which he amended on September 29, increasing his compensation demand from $150,000 to $1 million.
“I am not a legal expert, but after the Appeal Court decision [not to release him] last week, this case has been turned upside down,” she said. “But I am a Cambodian, and I will go to the court on Wednesday and hope to find justice under the law.”