Russian Oligarch Plans Return to Cambodia After Conviction

More than two years after being extradited to his home country to face fraud charges, Russian real-estate tycoon Sergei Polonsky plans to return to his island empire off the coast of Sihanoukville to resume his ecotourism development plans, according to an associate.

Mr. Polonsky, 44, was found guilty of embezzling millions of dollars from Moscow residential development investors on Wednesday and sentenced to five years in prison, but was immediately released because too much time had lapsed since the crime, Reuters reported.

“I think it’s a good news, but this isn’t the final decision because Mr. Polonsky’s lawyer will appeal the decision about the five years” to clear his name, said Vladimir Palancica, his associate and the caretaker of his estate in Cambodia. “He is not guilty.”

Mr. Palancica said the oligarch would return to Sihanoukville by the end of the year to resume work on developing his Cambodian estate, worth about $100 million.

“The Cambodian authorities have nothing against him because he’s committed no crime,” he said. “He was arrested and deported because Russian authorities only asked.”

Upon returning, he said, “the priority project for him was to make the ecotourism project connecting four islands for tourism and with a laboratory for medicine.” Mr. Polonsky also hoped to carry out conservation work off the coast of Sihanoukville to boost the fish ecosystem that has taken a hit from illegal Thai fishing, he said.

His Underwater War Museum, an artificial reef made of Cambodian military hardware intended to educate visitors on the country’s war-torn past, would likely also resume construction, Mr. Palancica said. Before being extradited to Russia, Mr. Polonsky had been negotiating with Defense Ministry officials to buy tanks, airplanes and boats for the project, he said.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry said that while he was familiar with Mr. Polonsky’s deportation, he could not comment on whether he would be allowed to return to Cambodia, referring questions to the Justice Ministry, whose spokesmen could not be reached.

But Uk Heisela, head of investigations for the Interior Ministry’s immigration department—who previously said Mr. Polonsky might be allowed to return in 2020—said he had been blacklisted by the Cambodian government upon his arrest and deportation for not carrying a valid passport. Still, Lieutenant General Heisela said there was a chance he would be allowed to return.

“When he was in the country, he didn’t cause any serious impact to national security,” he said. “He can return, but he needs to send a request to the Interior Minister first, because the minister is [the one]who signed off on his deportation.”

(Additional reporting by Sek Odom)

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