Some eight years after he fled fraud charges in his home country, Russian fugitive Vladimir Batalin faced a deportation hearing at the Court of Appeal in Phnom Penh on Thursday.
The associate of jailed oligarch countryman Sergei Polonsky, who was deported last year to face serious fraud charges, Mr. Batalin is wanted in Russia for “swindling…on an especially large scale,” according to Russian news website Amur.info.
Outside the courtroom on Thursday his lawyer, Um Bunthoeun, said deporting his client would be unlawful on multiple grounds.
“The charge against my client is a misdemeanor case. Under international law they cannot deport my client,” he said, arguing that the only grounds for deportation were serious crimes such as murder.
Mr. Batalin is charged in Russia with defrauding 20 districts in the eastern province of Amur out of $230,000, according to Mr. Bunthoeun, although Amur.info puts the figure at close to $1 million.
Mr. Bunthoeun said the charges were related to a regional power play to remove the provincial governor at the time following the Russian presidential election in 2008, and were therefore politically motivated.
He said that sending his client to face “political charges” in Russia would contravene Cambodia’s laws on deportation.
In a statement presented to the court on Thursday, Mr. Bunthoeun explained that Mr. Batalin’s coal and oil company, known as AFC, entered into a partnership with state-owned fuel company BLT at the behest of the former provincial governor, to form ICS, in which Mr. Batalin owned a 42 percent stake.
The fraud charges relate to ICS allegedly fraudulently overcharging the 20 districts in which the company sold fuel to state housing associations.
“My client did not steal the company money like the Russian Federation court accuses…. My client is innocent,” the statement reads.
According to Amur.info, Mr. Batalin was charged in June 2008 with large-scale “swindling” under Article 159, Chapter 4 of the Russian criminal code. The charges carry a maximum prison term of 10 years and a fine of up to $15,000. The article cites investigators as claiming that the state government was overcharged by ICS by about $4.2 million, with Mr. Batalin accused of personally embezzling about $925,000.
Mr. Batalin left Russia sometime in 2008 and spent time in Hong Kong and other Asian countries before coming to Cambodia and working as a “businessman” for the past five years, his lawyer said in court on Thursday.
The 37-year-old was arrested at the behest of Russian authorities in March, after police in Bei commune apparently recognized him from a photo.
The Russian Embassy in Phnom Penh did not reply to requests for comment.