A long-running case involving four U.S. citizens accused of defrauding a well-connected dentist out of $1 million stalled on Monday, with a planned hearing called off after the plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that a witness had a personal relationship with the judge and one of the accused.
“We have postponed the trial because we have received a complaint challenging the judge,” Presiding Judge Svay Tonh said by telephone, referring to himself. Judge Tonh said he did not know when the case would resume and declined to comment further.
Well-connected Phnom Penh dentist Eng Lykuong filed a fraud complaint in 2014 against the four men, alleging that she had been tricked into investing $1 million into their development company, Akra Agricultural Partners, which never began operations.
Cambodian-American businessman Richer San has been the only defendant present during the trial. Those being tried in absentia are Siv Sichan, a former U.S. envoy to the U.N.; William Nojay, a New York state assemblyman; and Thomas Willems, an American businessman.
The defendants argue that the business venture was a legitimate failure. The case has been dormant for almost a year after both sides delivered what were supposed to be closing arguments in the case last June.
Court spokesman Ly Sophana declined to say what had prompted Monday’s scheduled hearing.
In a complaint signed on June 30 and stamped by the court on July 1, however, Ms. Lykuong says that she recently discovered that Men Kolvatey, her friend and a witness she called to testify on her behalf during the trial, was friends with judge Tonh.
“I file this complaint against Judge Svay Tonh and ask that he not be allowed to try the above case to be held on 4 July 2016…because I clearly know that Judge Svay Tonh is close friends with Ms. Men Kolvatey,” the complaint says.
The complaint explains that the judge and witness are neighbors in Phnom Penh and also alleges that Ms. Kolvatey was friends with Mr. San, claiming that the two convinced her to invest in Akra.
“I loved her like a friend or sister…. [But] she was among the four that tried to take away my money,” Ms. Lykuong said by telephone, adding that she had “many reasons” to believe her former friend had colluded with the men and the judge, but declining to elaborate.
Ms. Lykuong has also said she was deceived into believing that Akra was registered in the U.S. and that her investment would guarantee her a green card to live in the U.S. She said on Sunday that she had evidence to show that Akra was never registered in the U.S.
However, letters between Ms. Lykuong and Robert Simon, an attorney for law firm Whitaker Chalk, say the opposite.
“AKRA was incorporated in the State of Delaware (USA) on November 9, 2012…. AKRA registered in Texas with the Texas Secretary of States as a foreign corporation on September 2, 2014,” Mr. Simon said in one letter.
Mr. Simon also wrote that Akra forfeited its corporate charter in October 2014, though that would have been about a month after Mr. San was arrested over the fraud charges. He was released on bail less than two months later.
Ms. Lykuong explained the contradiction on Monday by claiming she was led to believe that Akra had been operational in the U.S. for some time before she agreed to invest, and that its actual registration was “totally different” from what had been described to her.