Wanted Oligarch Says No Justice Waiting in Russia

KOH DEK KUOL, Preah Sihanouk Province – Three days after Interpol requested his extradition to Russia to face multimillion–dollar embezzlement charges there, Sergei Polonsky decided to go on a picnic.

“Five minutes, we go,” the 41-year-old Russian ex-billionaire announced Thursday to his staff on Koh Dek Kuol, his tiny private island just a 30-minute boat ride from the coast of Sihanoukville, prompting a flurry of activity and walkie-talkie chatter. 

Sergei Polonsky, formerly one of Russia’s richest men, relaxes aboard the Koiyo, a 20-meter Japanese motorboat, on the way to Koh Rong from his private island, Koh Dek Kuol, off the coast of Sihanoukville on Thursday. (Ben Woods/The Cambodia Daily)
Sergei Polonsky, formerly one of Russia’s richest men, relaxes aboard the Koiyo, a 20-meter Japanese motorboat, on the way to Koh Rong from his private island, Koh Dek Kuol, off the coast of Sihanoukville on Thursday. (Ben Woods/The Cambodia Daily)

Exactly five minutes later, the 20-meter Koiyo—a turquoise-hulled Japanese motorboat—was packed: towels, sunscreen, sandwiches, a case of liquor, kite-surfing gear, an underwater propellant device straight from a spy film and—just in case—extra ammunition for an AK-47 assault rifle.

The island, which consists of a four-story main house connected by raised walkways to several outlying buildings—including a wooden sauna and golden Buddhist temple—is a tribute to Mr. Polonsky’s varied interests.

Atop the central building is a tower that bears the same image as the Bayon towers. Inside, replicas of famous paintings by Vincent van Gogh and other artists hang on the walls, while in many rooms, Western musical instruments, statues and smaller works of art compete for space with large computer monitors.

A giant plaster shark is suspended over the pool area while real monkeys and lemurs swing from branches in the jungle surrounding the compound. Four long-haired cats patrol the hallways of the main house.

As the Koiyo pulled away from the dock and began motoring toward Koh Rong, a neighboring island popular among tourists, the perpetually shirtless Mr. Polonsky stretched his 2-meter frame out on the prow and quickly fell asleep, as an entourage of friends and security guards, along with two journalists, settled in for the hour-long trip.

“The government told me to bodyguard him [Polonsky],” said Bat Moniroth, a Sihanoukville immigration police officer who has been at Polonsky’s side for the past two weeks on the orders of his superiors, whom he declined to name.

When a small fishing boat came too close to the Koiyo, Mr. Moniroth blew a whistle, warning the vessel away, before returning to his sandwich.

Upon disembarking at Koh Rong, the fugitive businessman and his group strutted up to a beachfront restaurant and ordered a dinner of barbecued seafood. Before long, a pair of eager Russian tourists approached, hoping to have their picture taken with the barrel-chested oligarch. Mr. Polonsky obliged, flashing his trademark “double-victory” hand gesture—formed by joining the pointer and middle fingers, and pinkie and ring finger—for the photo.

“His ideas about the world, business, economics, politics and so on are different from other people…and [he] offers a bigger view,” said Andrey Knyazkov, 23, from Moscow.

“He is great leader because…he can energize people [around] an idea,” he said.

Mr. Polonsky, once one of Russia’s richest men, was charged in absentia in July for his role in embezzling more than $175 million from some 80 investors in a Moscow construction project. According to Russian media, the Russian Interior Ministry announced Monday that he had been placed on Interpol’s wanted list.

As of Friday, Mr. Polonsky was not listed on Interpol’s website.

“If Interpol takes me, Interpol f—ks me,” Mr. Polonsky said during an interview Friday on Koh Rong.

“I need a true court [trial],” he said, going on to reference the case of Sergei Magnitsky, an accountant who accused Russian government officials of widespread fraud, and died in prison, allegedly from beatings and inadequate medical care, after being held without trial.

“Next week [is] very important for me, because the Kampuchea government decides [what to do with me],” Mr. Polonsky said, declining to elaborate.

On Tuesday, Mr. Polonsky used his Facebook account to extend an open invitation to members of Interpol to visit him on his “beautiful island” in an apparent act of goodwill, and in the hope of convincing the international police agency that he is not guilty of the charges brought against him.

Mr. Polonsky is also involved in an ongoing criminal case in Cambodia. The Sihanoukville Provincial Court in January charged Mr. Polonsky and fellow Russians Konstantin Baglay and Alexander Karachinsky with assault after they allegedly threatened six Cambodians with a knife and forced them to jump off a boat off the coast of Sihanoukville on December 30.

Mr. Polonsky was granted bail on April 3, and in May, he left Cambodia and traveled to Israel in an attempt to obtain Israeli citizenship, but his trip was cut short and he returned to Cambodia in August because, he said, he feared for his safety.

Mr. Baglay on Thursday denied the charges against himself, Mr. Polonsky and Mr. Karachinsky, claiming that the victims of the alleged assault had been attempting to frame the Russians following a dispute over work the men had been contracted to do on Mr. Polonsky’s island.

“It’s not true,” Mr. Baglay said in Sihanoukville.

“In prison, people tried to poison us…to alter our minds,” he added.

During the three months Mr. Polonsky spent in the Sihanoukville provincial prison, former partners of his real estate firm, Mirax Group, seized control of the company, he claims.

The Mirax Group, since renamed Potok, is Mr. Polonsky’s brainchild, with development projects spanning Russia, Ukraine, France, the U.S. and U.K., including Moscow’s Federation Tower, which when complete, will be the tallest building in Eastern Europe.

“They [Interpol] need to take the people who took control of my company,” Mr. Polonsky said Friday.

Although fearful of possible extradition to Russia, where he does not believe he will receive a fair trial, Mr. Polonsky said he has founded a new technology company in Cambodia named Polonium, which will begin operating in December.

“It’s not finished. We will use technology for a project in Kampuchea,” he said, declining to give further details.

“This is my future,” he said of the Cambodia-based company.

Polonium’s website merely displays the company’s logo, concentric gold dots radiating out from a larger central dot. The logo is also affixed to Mr. Polonsky’s tablet computer, which he uses to update his active Facebook and Twitter accounts. He currently has more than 30,000 Twitter followers.

Mr. Polonsky also said that he is seeking Cambodian citizenship. “I am waiting to receive citizenship,” he said, adding that he applied two months ago.

Towering over most people, a mop of dirty-blond curls tops Mr. Polonsky’s youthful and full-featured face. He speaks in short bursts, gesturing wildly as he does, and frequently in proverbs conjured on the spot. “If possible, possible; if not possible, not possible,” he said of his business ventures.

While mostly energetic and smiley to the extreme, during his interview on Thursday, he at times grew agitated with his retinue. On one occasion, he threatened to banish a fellow Russian to a distance of no less than 10 meters for some petty infraction.

Lieutenant General Keo Vanthan, director of Cambodia’s Interpol office at the Interior Ministry, declined to comment on Friday, saying only that he had reported on the status of Mr. Polonsky’s case to the ministry’s spokesman, Lieutenant General Kirth Chantharith. Lt. Gen. Chantharith was not contactable. Deputy National Police Chief Mao Chandara also declined to comment on Mr. Polonsky and the extradition request.

Valery Novikov, 45, Mr. Polonsky’s right-hand man and self-proclaimed “captain” of Koh Dek Kuol, summed up his employer’s ongoing legal battles: “Big business, big money, big problems.”

(Additional reporting by Khy Sovuthy)

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