Mercedes Fire Latest Incident In Restive Sihanoukville

Police are probing a suspected arson attack on a Mercedes-Benz coupe in Sihanoukville, which caught fire shortly after its driver, a Turkish national, stepped out of the vehicle early Tuesday morning.

The black CLK-class coupe caught fire just after 3 a.m., according to police, although authorities are divided over whether the blaze was an isolated incident, or the latest attack in an increasingly volatile feud between two expatriate factions in the coastal town.

Sihanoukville police chief Phul Phorsda said that Bora Ozturk, 36, parked the car outside his rented home and walked inside moments before flames erupted, leaving the vehicle with a shattered front windshield and what appeared to be mostly superficial damage to its hood.

“The car was burned after 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning in Pi village, Bei commune,” he said. “We do not know what caused the fire and we are now investigating the case.”

The incident comes just days after the front end of a late-model Range Rover was torn apart by an explosion while parked outside the home of Nikolai Doroshenko, 54, a Russian businessman and longtime expatriate involved in a number of legal disputes with fugitive developer Sergei Polonsky, 42, who lives on a private island off the coast of Sihanoukville.

Mr. Doroshenko’s 36-year-old son, Ostap, a captain in the provincial immigration police force, has accused Mr. Polonsky of being behind the Range Rover explosion in the early hours of Friday, which he claims was part of a plot to murder his parents.

“That night, the people tried to kill my father and mother,” Ostap Doroshenko said Tuesday, adding he and his father were in Phnom Penh at the time, while his mother, who was inside the house, fled to safety in her pajamas.

The younger Doroshenko said he believed that the latest fire affecting Mr. Ozturk—who has done carpentry work for Mr. Polonsky—was caused by an electrical fault in the car, and was unrelated to the blast outside his parents’ home last week.

Mr. Polonsky—an eccentric former billionaire who is wanted by Moscow on multimillion-dollar embezzlement charges—has denied any involvement in either     incident.

Kaspars Cekotins, a lawyer for Mr. Polonsky, said that “only Doroshenko himself can tell what really happened there.”

“It might have something to do with his businesses or might be another one of his stories, we can only guess,” he said via Facebook. “One thing for sure is that Polonsky had absolutely nothing to do with it as well as with the recent events in Sihanoukville.”

Contacted Tuesday, Preah Sihanouk provincial penal police chief Nop Sareoun said the Range Rover explosion and Mercedes fire were likely connected.

“We suspect that these cases occurred [as a result of] a dispute between foreigners,” he said, declining to comment further.

However, provincial police chief Seang Kosal said the two cases were “separate,” and that while there was speculation that they were mafia-related, “there is no proof.”

Mr. Kosal referred further queries to provincial forensic police chief Sarath Vithyea, who declined to comment.

Sihanoukville has seen a spike in violent crime involving foreign nationals over the past few months, including an alleged stabbing, drive-by shooting and failed assassination.

In a speech to officials at the Interior Ministry on Friday, National Police chief Neth Savoeun addressed the rise of crime by and against foreigners in Cambodia, particularly in Sihanoukville.

“Cambodia does not allow mafia foreigners to come to commit illegal offences on Cambodian land,” General Savoeun said, according to a transcript of his remarks posted to the National Police website.

Mr. Ozturk, the Mercedes’ driver, could not be reached on Tuesday. But Pierre Kann—a Cambodian who runs the Koh Rong Dive Center with Mr. Ozturk and loaned him the car—said that after a day of being questioned by police on the mainland, he had decided not to file a complaint.

Both Mr. Ozturk and Mr. Kann have worked with Mr. Polonsky: Mr. Kann is helping him build an “Underwater War Museum” in the waters off Koh Tang, while Mr. Ozturk just finished overseeing the construction of bungalows on Koh Damlong, which the wanted oligarch is developing.

“If I make a report to police, I don’t believe they will find anyone who burned my car, and it will only cost me money, so I prefer to say it’s an electrical fire, get my car back and stop the case,” Mr. Kann said.

“I don’t know who is behind it so I just go to Koh Rong to be safe.”

(Additional reporting by Ben Woods)

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