Russian tycoon accused of embezzlement avoids extradition by Cambodia

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Cambodia's highest court on Friday rejected a request by Russia to extradite a tycoon accused of embezzling tens of millions of dollars in a real estate scam.

The Supreme Court ruled that Sergei Polonsky, 41, could not be sent back to Russia because the two countries do not have an extradition treaty.

The tycoon told reporters he was "very happy" about the ruling. But he added that it was "only a first step" and his lawyers in Russia were working on clearing his name.

Polonsky was detained in Cambodia in November on an island off the south-western city of Sihanoukville after a request by Russia, but freed by an appeals court in January.

A Russian court ordered Polonsky's detention in August last year after he was charged in absentia for his alleged role in a 5.7 billion rouble (S$199 million) swindle which defrauded more than 80 investors.

Investigators have accused the businessman of orchestrating the scam linked to the construction of a housing complex in 2007-2008.

Polonsky said at a news conference in Phnom Penh that it was a "big case" involving "a lot of bad men".

"I did not take some money and I am happy that I can work and have a future here," he added.

His Cambodian lawyer Benson Samay said the case was based on a "turf war" over business interests.

Polonsky faces a separate trial in Cambodia over allegations that he and two other Russians threatened a boat crew in the kingdom at knifepoint.

He was granted provisional release in April last year in that case after spending three months in prison in Cambodia, where he has business interests.

Polonsky refused to say how much he had invested in real estate projects in Cambodia, but said he was considering spending US$100 million (S$126 million) more.

The outspoken tycoon's business was hit hard by the 2007-2008 global financial crisis, forcing him to abandon work on Moscow's Federation Tower, which he had hoped would become Europe's tallest building.