SIHANOUKVILLE (Khmer Times) – Shock waves, opinion and gossip have spread like wildfire through the coastal community of Sihanoukville since it became clear that fugitive Russian tycoon Sergei Polonsky had not only been arrested, but was being deported.
Mr. Polonsky had previously managed to avoid extradition to Russia, where he is wanted on charges of fraud and embezzlement. The Russian government says Mr. Polonsky made off with around $174 million.
After being detained during a dramatic joint operation by military police and the Cambodian Royal Navy off the island of Koh Damlong on May 15, Mr. Polonsky was swiftly transported to Phnom Penh.
Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, speaking to Khmer Times on May 17, confirmed that Mr. Polonsky had been returned to the Russia, “where he will be prosecuted in accordance with our law.”
Mr. Polonsky faces a multitude of serious criminal charges related to alleged property fund embezzlement in Moscow and now awaits his fate in a Russian jail cell.
Sihanoukville Safer without Sergei?
Strong opinions have not been difficult to find in Sihanoukville over the past week, especially in the city’s large expatriate community. Tom Willens, a long-time Sihanoukville resident and NGO worker from the Netherlands, was one of many people who spoke to Khmer Times about their relief in seeing Mr. Polonsky leave.
“From everything I’ve heard and read about Sergei in the media and from the communities here – Khmers and foreigners – I think it was absolutely a good idea to get rid of him,” he said. “He clearly didn’t respect the local laws or the people.”
The owner of a popular restaurant in downtown Sihanoukville expressed concern that Mr. Polonsky’s feud with long-time rival Nikolai Doroshenko had unfairly tainted the reputation of the Russian community in the seaside town. Other business owners reported that there had often been tangible fear in the community during the lengthy and occasionally violent feud between the two Russian businessmen.
“It’s good he’s gone. Russians fighting here was bad for tourism and he should face justice for his crimes,” said another hotel owner.
Disgusted by Polonsky’s Behavior
One source, who spoke on condition of anonymity to Khmer Times, said her boyfriend, a previous employee of Mr. Polonsky, had been disgusted by attacks on Khmer fishermen by Mr. Polonsky and his men. The source said the fishermen were threatened with knives and forced to abandon their boat and swim to shore.
Mr. Polonsky was arrested and charged in relation to such an incident in 2012, but he avoided prosecution after paying compensation to the Khmer families affected.
Politically Motivated Extradition?
A British expatriate, who wished to remain anonymous, voiced widely discussed suspicions about the timing of the extradition, which occurred just as Prime Minister Hun Sen and other Cambodian officials prepare for a visit to Moscow.
“It seems as this is the Cambodian government wanting to get closer to Russia, and I’m not so sure that this politically-motivated move is a good thing for the Khmer people,” he said.
A Ukrainian man, who would have begun working for Mr. Polonsky had it not been for the Russian businessman’s detention, spoke to Khmer Times of his relief. “He pays well, so I wanted the work, but then I found out about what had happened to him and his crew being arrested, I felt very lucky,” he said.
Good for Sihanoukville’s Tourism?
Thomas S. Johansen, the Norwegian owner of the Backpacker Heaven hotel on Victory Hill, said he was happy with the police work that resulted in Mr. Polonsky’s arrest.
“It seems to me that police have been using a lot of their resources on this dispute between Polonsky and Doroshenko, and I think it’s a good thing that law enforcement can now focus on other things to help the town’s tourism develop and improve,” he said.
Others, such as Douglas McColl of the Sihanoukville Tourism Association, are keen to now work with the municipality and businesses to improve the coastal city’s reputation and image.
Mr. McColl said, “There’s been a lot of talk about Russian mafia here, which has tarnished our image.”