The Cambodian navy on Monday formally took control of Koh Damlong, a remote island that was slated to become the crown jewel of Sergei Polonsky’s offshore tourism project before the Russian developer was deported to Moscow to stand trial on serious fraud charges, officials said Tuesday.
Located more than 50 km off the coast of Sihanoukville, the island had become Mr. Polonsky’s second home in the months before his deportation on May 17—ostensibly for not having a passport—and was where the former billionaire was arrested two days prior.
Chhin Seng Nguon, deputy governor of Preah Sihanouk province, said he led a group of police, military police, naval officers and local government officials to the island on Monday to inspect the property and inventory its assets, which consisted of about two dozen wooden bungalows and other buildings, along with furniture, sculptures and two metal safes.
Nothing was moved or taken to the mainland, Mr. Nguon said, and none of Mr. Polonsky’s former staff members were present when the officials arrived from Sihanoukville. Mr. Polonsky’s other properties—including his private residence on Koh Dek Koul island and 30-meter yacht—were already in the custody of Sihanoukville police, he added.
After completing the inspection of Koh Damlong, the island was left in the care of a contingent of officers from the navy’s base on nearby Koh Tang island, the deputy governor said.
“We handed it over to…the navy to temporarily look after it until there is a decision from my superiors,” he said.
Yos Sivutha, commander of the Koh Tang naval force, confirmed that his officers would be stationed on the island from now on, but declined to comment further.
Mr. Polonsky, 42, once one of the richest men in Russia, was charged in 2013 with embezzling millions of dollars from investors in two Moscow residential developments and subsequently placed on Interpol’s most-wanted list. For fear that he would not receive a fair trial in Russia, he moved to Cambodia and began investing his fortune in a string of islands that he hoped to turn into a high-end tourism destination.
Cambodian courts turned down multiple extradition requests from Moscow over the past two years, but last month, his fortunes shifted.
On May 15, he was arrested with five associates on Koh Damlong and flown by helicopter to Phnom Penh. Two days later, he was put on a plane to Moscow. At the time, officials said he was deported for not having a passport, but arrested for having established an illegal bodyguard unit. Lawyers for Mr. Polonsky said his swift expulsion was the result of a “secret deal” between Cambodia and Russia.
Contacted Tuesday, Mr. Polonsky’s London-based lawyer, Sergei Vladi, said that upon landing in Moscow, his client was immediately sent to the city’s Matrosskaya Tishina prison to await trial.
Mr. Vladi said he had been in regular contact with Mr. Polonsky, who expected to be convicted of “the crimes he never committed” and had little hope that his assets in Cambodia would ever be returned to him. The lawyer estimated that Mr. Polonsky had invested more than $13 million in Cambodia.
“Everything personal which belongs to Polonsky…was stolen. The Rolls Royce, other cars, even credit cards…were confiscated,” he said, adding that devices containing his client’s personal data were promptly sent to the prosecutor in his case, Oleg Silchenko, a notorious government investigator.
“Together with Polonsky was stolen all of his computers and all of his iPads and all of his iPhones,” he said. “All of his personal data, it was delivered directly to the prosecutor.”
Mr. Polonsky’s treatment at the hands of Cambodian authorities, Mr. Vladi added, also made it unlikely that his client would return to Cambodia himself.
“He was just taken as a cat from his home in Cambodia and delivered into the skillful hands of Mr. Silchenko,” he said. “Do you think this man will come back?”