Byzantine Biofuel Fraud Case Draws To a Close

Defense lawyer Sok Sam Oeun on Wednesday helped bring the two-year fraud trial surrounding British national Gregg Fryett to an end by warning the Phnom Penh Municipal Court that a tainted verdict could have a chilling effect on future foreign investment.

Mr. Fryett, his Cambodian-American associates Um Sam Ang and Soeun Denny, and Cambodian Ouk Keo Ratanak were jailed in 2013 over a litany of charges related to their efforts to start a jatropha plantation in Banteay Meanchey province that would yield biofuel.

British businessman Gregg Fryett leaves the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in September. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“This trial is very important,” Mr. Sam Oeun said. “It can affect the reputation of the court and make investors not trust the Cambodian court system. It’s all up to the prosecutor and judges.”

Mr. Sam Oeun, the lawyer for Mr. Sam Ang and Mr. Denny, argued that their firm, International Green Energy (IGE), could not have been involved in the illegal clearing of about 5,100 hectares of forest land as accused because families had already been living on most of it.

“So the charge that IGE cleared 5,079 hectares of forest land was made without proof,” he said. “If there was no available land, how could it be cleared?”

He also rejected deputy prosecutor Ly Sophana’s claim from the day before that the firm was missing the government approval required by law, noting that both the Agriculture Ministry and the Ministry of Mines and Energy issued certificates approving the project.

Ty Pov, a lawyer hired by IGE, and military general Hanh Chamrong, who brokered the land deal, are also charged in the case, but have not yet been jailed. Their lawyers also asked that their clients be acquitted.

Mr. Fryett also made a final plea for justice.

“I spent $11 million and I was locked up for four years in prison. I wasted millions of dollars and hundreds of people also lost their jobs,” he said. “I want you to follow the law. Not for me, but for Cambodians.”

sony@cambodiadaily.com

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