Freedom twist for former fugitive

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Sergei Polonsky was deported after overstaying his visa. Ban Sokrith

A Moscow court yesterday convicted a flamboyant Russian tycoon, who formally enjoyed refuge in Cambodia before being deported in 2015, of fraud but then allowed him to walk free based on a statute of limitations.

Sergei Polonsky, who enjoyed protection from fraud and embezzlement charges while Cambodian courts refused to extradite him, was convicted of fraud yesterday in Russia, but the presiding judge said too much time had elapsed since his crime for the sentence to have legal force.

Mr Polonsky’s legal problems began in 2012 when state prosecutors accused his firm of stealing more than 5.7 billion roubles (now $94 million) of prepayments for flats in an unfinished Moscow complex it was building.

As a fugitive, he enjoyed a playboy lifestyle in Cambodia where he lived on Koh Dek Koul, a million-dollar private island in Preah Sihanouk province, while the Cambodian courts denied requests from Russia for his extradition.

But that all changed in May 2015, when he was suddenly arrested and deported. The government said he had overstayed his visa.

The reversal came just months after the two countries began formal negotiations for an extradition treaty and days after Russia mounted further pressure on the Foreign Ministry for his extradition.

Mr Polonsky spent time in a Cambodian prison after being accused of briefly kidnapping six Cambodian sailors in a 2013 New Year’s Eve celebration gone wrong.

Mr Polonsky had repeatedly promised to invest millions of dollars in multiple development and tourism projects in the country during his stay.

In Moscow yesterday, Mr Polonsky, a former occupant of the Forbes rich list with a fortune of $1.2 billion, compared doing business in Russia to civil war in his final address to the court.

“How can we do business if we are destroying one another?” he said. “The situation is close to catastrophic with the Russian economy.”

Outside court, Mr Polonsky said he had something to say about the verdict but would devote his first seven days of freedom to his wife.

When asked what his wider plans were, he replied: “To turn the world upside down.” With Reuters

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