The long-running trial of a British entrepreneur, two of his employees, a lawyer and a provincial official facing a slew of charges related to a failed biofuel venture in Banteay Meanchey province continued at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday, with one of the employees implicating a military general in the use of fraudulent land-transfer documents.
Cambodian-American Um Sam Ang, the director of Gregg Fryett’s International Green Energy (IGE), is facing five charges related to the acquisition and clearing of two plots of land in Svay Chek district where the company sought to grow jatropha, from which biofuel can be produced. Mr. Fryett himself faces charges of forging documents and illegally clearing forest over what the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office has described as a Ponzi scheme.
Former Banteay Meanchey governor Oung Oeun has gone on the record to say that IGE was the victim of a nefarious plot by three corrupt officials, and an Interior Ministry investigation has named a former deputy provincial governor as the forger of the land documents, but the prosecution questioned Mr. Sam Ang on Wednesday without mention or apparent consideration of these facts.
A map of one of the plots, 5,079 hectares in Slakram commune, was projected onto a screen in the courtroom and prosecutor Ly Sophana began questioning Mr. Sam Ang—asking about his background, how he came to be involved in IGE, and whether he could prove that he did not create the fake documents—before defense attorney Sok Sam Oeun interjected.
“What actual evidence do you have that Um Sam Ang forged the documents?” Mr. Sam Oeun said.
Mr. Sophana then asked Mr. Sam Ang whether he verified that the documents were legitimate when he received them from Major General Hanh Chamrong, who had been acting as a broker for the landowner, Mao Malay, the wife of former military Commander in Chief Ke Kim Yan.
“Every document I received from Hanh Chamrong was photocopied. I never received an original document,” the defendant said, adding that the general had shown him copies of the documents both with and without the stamps and signatures required for the transfer.
“The landowners managed the maps: Hanh Chamrong and…Mao Malay.”
Ms. Malay has never been called to court over the case. Maj. Gen. Chamrong has never appeared. “There was an arrest warrant, but he escaped,” Judge Soreasey explained later by telephone.
The judge said the Interior Ministry investigation would be considered by the court when Mr. Fryett is questioned.