Embassies Raise Concerns Over Briton’s Case

“I believe that Mr. Fryett has a criminal lifestyle.” This was the conclusion of an investigator at the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office in a report submitted to a London court in February 2012.

More than four years later, and more than three years after his arrest in Cambodia, British businessman Gregg Fryett is still in prison without a conviction. But the U.K., which first raised a red flag over his operations in Banteay Meanchey province, is now stepping in to make sure the suspected fraudster doesn’t fall victim to Cambodia’s corrupt court system.

Gregg Fryett leaves the Phnom Penh Municipal Court following a hearing in December. (Jens Welding Ollgaard/The Cambodia Daily)
Gregg Fryett leaves the Phnom Penh Municipal Court following a hearing in December. (Jens Welding Ollgaard/The Cambodia Daily)

According to the British Embas­sy in Phnom Penh, officials at the U.K.’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) have been meeting be­­­hind the scenes with Cambodian authorities to discuss Mr. Fryett’s grueling two-year trial.

“We have raised our concerns over delays in the legal process with the Cambodian authorities and will continue to do so,” the FCO said in an email last week, adding that em­bassy officials were also regularly visiting Mr. Fryett at Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison.

Meas Kim Heng, Cambodia’s ambassador to the U.K., met with FCO officials last month to discuss Mr. Fryett’s case, according to the Cambodian Embassy.

While three of Mr. Fryett’s associates from the Sustainable Growth Group have been convicted of fraud in the U.K., the case in Cambodia involving a subsidiary called International Green Energy (IGE), which received millions of dollars from investors for a biofuel business in Banteay Meanchey, continues to crawl along.

Mr. Fryett, together with Cambodian-American associates Um Samnang and Soeum Denny, and Cambodian Ouk Keo Ratanak, were jailed in 2013 on charges of creating fake documents to purchase land in the northwestern province for a jatropha plantation, as well as illegally clearing land and defrauding farmers.

The judge who oversaw the initial investigation has since been imprisoned on a separate corruption charge, a provincial official in­volved in the case has been arrest­ed on fraud charges and numerous other government officials have supported claims that the case has been riddled with judicial misconduct from the start.

But judges and prosecutors at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court have been pressing ahead with weekly hearings, often giving the floor to Mr. Fryett for hours at a time to let him air his grievances—which routinely go ignored.

In January, Mr. Denny asked re­porters whether the U.S. government even cared about the case.

“All the evidence showing we are innocent exists. Is the U.S. Em­bas­sy even paying attention?” he said.

The embassy said last week, however, that it was watching the case and raising concerns through diplomatic channels.

“We have discussed this case with our British counterparts and raised it at the appropriate levels of the Cambodian government,” embassy spokesman Courtney Woods said in an email.

Chin Malin, a spokesman for the Ministry of Justice, said the case was not discussed during a meeting earlier this month be­tween U.S. Am­­bassador William Heidt and Jus­tice Minister Ang Vong Vathana.

Asked about the length of the trial and prolonged detention of the suspects, Mr. Malin said the courts had followed proper procedure throughout the case, conceding that an initial hearing must occur within 18 months of detention, but adding that delays were sometimes necessary.

“The period of time for a hearing is not set,” he said. “It is dependent on the background of the case.”

If anything has been proven during the months of hearings—days on end have been devoted to reviewing contracts, maps and land titles—it is that the background of the case is complex and often confusing.

The trial turned to the final charge of “instigating fraud” this week, based on a complaint by mem­bers of a contracted farming cooperative who say they were hired by IGE but never paid for their work.

Mr. Fryett faced this latest charge with what has become predicta­ble incredulity.

“Where is the fraud?” he said when questioned by his lawyer, Poeung Yak Hiep, at the municipal court on Tuesday.

“We give them a wonderful op­portunity. We spend $600,000 to enable them to get a value crop. We bring technology and expertise. We bring fertilizer. We hire people to help them. So at what point did we do wrong?”

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