In the first hearing since the suicide of a New York state assemblyman who was among four defendants in a high-profile fraud case before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, the presiding judge said on Tuesday that a verdict could come down as soon as next month.
William Nojay, 59, a politician from Rochester, New York, and father of three, killed himself on September 9. Local newspapers reported that he was set to face a separate criminal prosecution in New York over accusations that he embezzled funds from a business partner there.
The remaining defendants, none of whom attended Tuesday’s hearing, are Sichan Siv, a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N.; Richer San, a prominent Cambodian-American businessman in California; and Thomas Willems, a businessman from Texas.
The four were charged with fraud in August 2014 on the back of a complaint filed by Phnom Penh dentist Eng Lykuong, who invested $1 million in a company they launched together, Akra Agricultural Partners, which pitched itself as a venture that would boost the livelihoods of Cambodian farmers, but never began operations.
The case has seen numerous delays, but has centered largely around the question of whether the four made a sincere attempt to begin a profitable business after receiving Ms. Lykuong’s investment. The defendants face up to three years in prison if found guilty of fraud.
The dentist’s lawyer, Orn Hing, told the court on Tuesday that there was no evidence that any effort was made by Akra to begin operations.
“The company never operated because the company does not have any financial reports,” Mr. Hing told the court.
Kheng Ly, a lawyer for Mr. San and Mr. Siv, said the company was registered in both the U.S. and Cambodia with a total of $2.8 million in investment.
“That point shows that the company was really operating,” he said, adding that the real cause of the dispute was an unfulfilled promise that Ms. Lykuong would receive a visa to live in the U.S. in exchange for her investment.
Presiding Judge Svay Tonh said a verdict in the case could be handed down during the next hearing on October 20.
narim@cambodiadaily.com
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