Jailed UK Businessman Faces Fresh Charges

The Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court laid fresh charges of money laundering on the detained chairman of an embattled British investment firm on Friday, the same day that a provincial official was arrested in relation to fraud charges the businessman was already facing, a court official said Monday.

The court laid the new charges on Gregg Fryett—who has been detained in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison since March on charges of forging public documents—under the Law on Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism, provincial chief prosecutor Phann Vanrath said.

“The new charge delivered against Mr. Fryett has been made following an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Unit over the last nine months, which found the new charge,” he said.

Mr. Fryett has been charged under articles 404, 405 and 409 of the anti-money laundering law, Mr. Vanrath explained, declining to provide further details about the alleged operation.

Under the charges, the businessman faces two to five more years in jail and a 4 million riel (about $1,000) fine on top of the 15 years and 6 million riel (about $1,500) fine he already faces.

Mr. Fryett was originally arrested for allegedly forging documents and using them to fraudulently purchase land owned by Mao Malay, the wife of former military commander-in-chief Ke Kim Yan.

The Anti-Corruption Unit on Friday also arrested Ouk Keo Rattanak, who had served as the deputy chief of the Banteay Meanchey provincial administration, for forging and selling a duplicate land title to 992 hectares owned by Ms. Malay.

Mr. Vanrath confirmed that Mr. Keo Rattanak’s arrest is linked to the charges Mr. Fryett faces, as well as to a “biofuel scheme.”

Mr. Fryett’s international company, Sustainable Agro Energy, has been under investigation in the U.K. since February 2012, when the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) froze the firm’s assets and alleged more than $54 million worth of fraud.

Investigators say that as many as 2,000 people in the U.K. had invested as much as $230,000 each since 2007 in Sustainable Agro Energy’s jatropha plantation on the Banteay Meanchey land upon the promise of high rates of return.

The plantation has not produced a drop of biodiesel, and the SFO says the company continued to collect money from investors even after it realized it was unable to turn a profit.

Apiwath Meanchey Company, which is owned by Ms. Malay, and International Green Energy (IGE), the local arm of Sustainable Agro Energy, were accused in March 2013 by provincial forestry officials of illegally clearing state forestland on the plot of land in Banteay Meanchey, a complaint that Mr. Vanrath said at the time brought about Mr. Fryett’s arrest the same month.

In January 2013, Ourm Samnang and Soeun Denny, two Cambodian-American employees of IGE, had also been arrested and charged with document forgery and the illegal clearing of forest.

Soum Chankea, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said an investigation into the case by his organization appeared to show that Apiwath Meanchey had cleared the land before leasing it to Mr. Fryett’s IGE.

“More than 400 hectares of land IGE had rented from Apiwath Meanchey Company had been planted with jatropha [but] since the arrest of the two employees, those jatropha trees have been damaged since no one is looking after the plantation,” he said.

Ms. Malay could be reached for comment.

© 2014, All rights reserved.