The deputy prosecutor in the grueling fraud trial of British businessman Gregg Fryett recused himself on Tuesday as a result of a criminal complaint submitted by the accused, who alleged that the court’s pursuit of the case constituted “kidnap” and “torture.”
“Deputy prosecutor Ly Sophanna has decided to withdraw himself because he is involved in Mr. Gregg’s criminal complaint,” Judge Chuon Sokreasey told the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday.
“The judges will request that His Excellency prosecutor [Yet Chakriya] assign a new deputy prosecutor…to replace him,” the judge said.
However, the crux of Mr. Fryett’s complaint—that the decision to pursue the case against him was “false and malicious”—was not addressed by Judge Sokreasey, who ignored a request for a delay to review the complaint and said the trial would continue on Wednesday.
“The case is still illegal. They’ve just changed the bloody name,” Mr. Fryett said outside the courtroom on Tuesday.
The businessman was charged along with four associates in 2013 for allegedly creating fake documents to purchase and clear more than 6,000 hectares of land in Banteay Meanchey province from Mao Malay, the wife of Deputy Prime Minister Ke Kim Yan.
Mr. Fryett has said the land deal was legitimate and blamed a group of local officials headed by former provincial court director Ang Mealaktei—who is now serving jail time for a separate corruption conviction—of fabricating the case in order to seize the assets of his company, International Green Energy.
According to Mr. Fryett’s complaint, Vann Sophanna—a senior Forestry Administration official who filed the initial criminal complaint—did not have a legitimate grievance and abused his office in order to create the case.
“Despite…requests placed at court or in public trial requesting evidence to confirm that the criminal complaint of an officer of the Forestry Administration was lawful and proper, the prosecutor Ly Sophanna has not provided one page of supporting evidence that the prosecution was lawful,” the complaint says.
As a result, it says, the deputy prosecutor was guilty of “illegal and unlawful prosecution,” submitting “falsified or obstructed evidence,” “torture” and “conspiracy to kidnap through abduction and unlawful imprisonment.” Mr. Fryett and his co-defendants have now been in prison for more than three years without a conviction.
At a previous hearing, Judge Sokreasy said Mr. Sophanna could have been acting as a private citizen in lodging the complaint.
Mr. Fryett said on Tuesday that he disagreed.
“These guys in here said he’s allowed to complain on his own. No he’s not! He’s complaining for the forestry department because he’s on the letterhead,” he said.
Speaking after Tuesday’s hearing, Mr. Sophanna, the deputy prosecutor, dismissed Mr. Fryett’s complaint.
“The complaint is ridiculous. It is a baseless complaint and a complaint that will not be to his benefit,” he said. “I have done everything correctly according to procedure.”