High-profile Fraud Case Ends
The charges against four Americans allegedly complicit in defrauding a Cambodian dentist were upheld by Phnom Penh Municipal Court substitute prosecutor Chae Song yesterday at the end of their trial.
The four – former US Ambassador to the UN Sichan Siv, San Richer, Thomas A. Willems and William Nojay – were charged with “fraud with aggravating circumstances” under articles 377 and 360 of the Criminal Code and will receive their verdicts on October 20.
The men were sued by Dr. Eng Lykuong, the 45-year-old owner of Master Care Dental Clinic in Phnom Penh, on claims they defrauded her of $1 million through a rice export company – Akra Agriculture Partners – that went defunct in 2012.
The charges against Mr. Nojay, a New York assemblyman, were dropped because he committed suicide on September 9. The rest of the charges were upheld after the case had been delayed for years. The three remaining suspects were tried in absentia.
Judge Svay Tonh said Mr. Richer, a 52-year-old businessman, served as senior vice-president and director of business development at Akra. Mr. Siv, a 67-year-old former US Ambassador to the UN, was chairman of the board of directors at Akra.
Mr. Willems, a 57-year-old businessman, was the company’s president and chief executive director. Mr. Nojay worked as Akra’s secretary, treasurer and director.
Mr. Richer was arrested by police on September 3, 2014, but was released after posting $1 million in bail. The other two have been at large since the charges were filed.
Dr. Lykuong said she met Mr. Siv and Mr. Richer through a Cambodian-American living in the United States in 2012. Both men were active in the community and Mr. San was on the board of directors of a Khmer community organization in the US.
She told the court yesterday that she later went back to the US to meet with the men and see their business plan for a rice export business between Cambodia and the US.
Mr. Richer and Mr. Siv convinced her to invest in the company, saying they had already secured backing and investment from two American businessmen – Mr. Willems and Mr. Nojay.
“They said they would create a bank for farmers to borrow money directly and buy agricultural products from them, which they would then export to the United States,” she said. “But they said they needed to have capital of $4 million and they only had $3 million already.
“They were lacking $1 million and said if I wanted to join their business, they would require me to put up $1 million in capital by the end of December 2012.”
She added that the men promised her a position on the board of directors and a job as general manager of the company. They also said she could become an American citizen if she joined their business.
Dr. Lykuong told the court that she trusted all of the men’s claims and offers because of Mr. Siv, who was well known in the Cambodian-American community and respected due to his time as US ambassador to the UN.
She eventually decided to join them and received a receipt letter from Akra after wiring the $1 million to Mr. Nojay’s bank account in 2012.
Eight months passed after she sent the money before she was told during a video conference meeting with Mr. Richer and Mr. Siv that both men had resigned from the company. When she looked into the company’s documents and the shareholders, she realized her name was not included.
“These are organizational crimes,” she said.
She is demanding the initial $1 million investment she gave the men be repaid and an additional $200,000 as compensation.
Orn Hing, Dr. Lykuong’s lawyer, said Akra was a fraudulent company from the beginning because it never had any capital other than the $1 million she gave them.
He added that the four men were able to pull off the scam because they were well-educated and well-connected, both in Cambodia and in the US.
“They had a willingness to cheat my client. They committed this crime as a group and they were well-organized,” he said. “To find the truth and justice for my client, we would like to ask the court to punish them strongly because they have not accepted their fault and are trying to avoid responsibility.”
The defense lawyer for the four men denied the allegations and said it was a simple case of a failed business going under.
Ing Chakriya, the lawyer for Mr. Willems, said yesterday that Akra was in fact registered in the US and with the Ministry of Commerce here and did receive Dr. Lykuong’s $1 million. He claims the company sent her a certificate of payment in 2012 and sent a letter about her shares of the company.
“Akra Agriculture Partners did not cheat her. She had one million shares in Cambodia. The company listed her as a shareholder and issued a letter to her,” he said.
But Dr. Lykuong says she never received any letter about her shares in the company and believes it was only sent after she sued them in municipal court in 2013.
Kheng Ly, Mr. Richer’s lawyer, said his client had no shares in the company, was only employed there, and had no influence on any decisions made.
“My client was only on the staff of Akra and was just working for pay. He did not commit any of the crimes he is accused of,” he said.
The lawyer for Mr. Nojay, Keo Savin, said his client denied the allegations in a letter sent to him before his death. But Mr. Savin did not contest the charges because they had been expunged due to Mr. Nojay’s suicide.
Mr. Nojay was under investigation by US authorities, including the FBI, for a litany of fraud and embezzlement claims and was slated to testify in court before he was found dead in his car from a gunshot wound near his home in New York.
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