Six Cambodian seamen who were allegedly forced to leap into the ocean at knifepoint by a Russian tycoon have withdrawn their accusations after agreeing a compensation deal worth a total of $20,000 (£12,500).
Ouch Sopheaktra, a lawyer for the crew members, said the men had withdrawn their charges against Sergei Polonsky earlier this week after agreeing a payout. “The victims withdrew their lawsuits on 10 January and they have been compensated $20,000,” he said. “I have no idea if the court will release the Russian men very soon because the court has their own legal way to decide what to do next.”
Mr Polonsky was arrested by the Cambodian authorities along with two friends, Konstantin Baglay and Alexander Karachinsky, and charged with “intentional violence” and illegal detention after the sailors were forced into the ocean off the coast at Sihanoukville on the night of 30 December. If convicted, they could face up to three years in jail.
Reports said the incident happened after a fireworks party being held on Koh Rong island and attended by Mr Polonsky and his friends, attracted the attention of a nearby military base. When a boat was dispatched to check, Mr Polonsky apparently offered to accompany the boat to the mainland to collect his documents. At some point, the sailors were allegedly forced into the sea where they were rescued by local fishermen.
A statement released on Mr Polonsky’s behalf when the incident happened said: “Unfortunately, the language barrier between both parties led to some tension as Mr Polonsky and his friends were taken to the military base by force.”
On social media, Mr Polonsky insisted he would not plead guilty to the allegations levelled at him. He said: “I could have gone free after 15 minutes if I had pleaded guilty.”
The 40-year-old tycoon made his money in the construction industry, though he suffered major financial losses in the 2008 crisis and had to abandon his plans to build what would have been Europe’s tallest building in Moscow. He moved to Cambodia last year and established himself in the south-western coastal resort of Sihanoukville.
There are suggestions in Moscow that he may have fled to Cambodia in order to avoid a potential court case against creditors who say he owes them millions of dollars. Russian media have reported that Mr Polonsky has written to the king of Cambodia asking for citizenship of the country after his release and promising major investment in the economy.
His company is said to be part-owner of Koh Dek Kuol, a private island that his company has developed as the Mirax luxury resort.
Last year, Mr Polonsky was involved in an incident when he was punched on live television by Alexander Lebedev, the father of Evgeny Lebedev, proprieter of The Independent. Mr Lebedev has been charged with hooliganism and battery and his trial is scheduled to begin shortly.
Although the sailors have dropped their claims against Mr Polonsky it is not clear what has happened to the formal charges that were levelled against him and he and his friends remain in jail. Prosecutor Huot Vicheth said today that the case was now being dealt with by an investigating judge.
The Russian embassy in Phnom Penh failed to respond to queries.