On Wednesday, a judge rejected appeals from two plaintiffs and four defendants imprisoned through their connection to the failed biofuel venture headed by British businessman and alleged fraudster Gregg Fryett.
In the latest step of the drawn-out criminal proceedings surrounding the Fryett affiliates, the Phnom Penh Appeal Court upheld lower court verdicts for Um Sam Ang, Soeun Denny, Ouk Keo Rattanak and Dy Pov. Defendants were arrested in 2013 and convicted in the capital’s municipal court in late December 2016.
Presiding judge Plang Samang also rejected the appeals of plaintiffs Preap Phe and Muong Ly, both of whom were suing for damages from their reportedly major investments in Fryett’s defunct company, International Green Energy. Phe had sought $1.5 million and Ly at least $1 million.
Judge Samnang gave the individuals 30 days to appeal the decision. The trial on their appeals had been held November 30.
In 2016, Fryett received an eight-year prison sentence and a fine of 10 million riel, or about $2,500. Sam Ang received a seven-year sentence and a 10 million riel fine, while Denny and Ratanak both received five-year sentences and fines of five million riel, or about $1,250. They all served their sentences and had been released, but the four launched an appeal to clear their records.
The multi-year criminal case against Fryett and his associates sprawled over more than 108 court appearances and centered on charges of creating fraudulent documents, illegally clearing land and defrauding farmers. Fryett was reportedly a millionaire in the U.K. before coming to Cambodia and had bought land in the kingdom to create plantations for jatropha, a hardy plant used to make biofuel.
His legal troubles in Cambodia started in 2012 after an investigation by the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office concluded Fryett maintained a “criminal lifestyle” as chairman of the Sustainable Growth Group, a biofuel investment vehicle that went into liquidation amidst Fryett’s sudden fall from grace.
Some of that land had allegedly been purchased from businesswoman Mao Malay, wife of Deputy Prime Minister Ke Kim Yan. Fryett had claimed throughout his trials that Malay had been responsible for the actions that resulted in criminal charges, but neither were ever brought to testify in the case against the biofuels firm.
The four defendants who appealed their convictions last month all denied having any part in forging documents.
Denny, who had received a five-year prison sentence, told the court he had worked for International Green Energy for less than five months at the time of his arrest. He said he was a staffer who was mostly in charge of handling machinery and knew nothing of the project’s documentation.
“They handed over documents to me and I did not know whether it was a forged document or not. I just followed orders,” Denny said at his appeal.
Fellow defendant Sam Ang had claimed the Interior Ministry and National Police investigated his involvement in the case and found he was not involved with any forgeries. He said he had only scanned documents and maps given to him and sent them to the parent company in England.
“I have not committed as I was charged. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s decision is unjust,” Sam Ang said at the hearing, requesting the court return his machinery and allow him to operate International Green Energy.
He attended the Wednesday morning verdict announcement but said he had yet to read the official documentation from the court. He told VOD by phone that he will discuss the case with his lawyer first before filing an appeal with the Supreme Court.