Cambodia court frees Russian tycoon wanted over alleged scam

Phnom Penh - A Cambodian court on Monday freed a Russian tycoon wanted by Moscow over allegations he embezzled tens of millions of dollars in a real estate scam, and suspended extradition proceedings against him, his lawyer said.

Sergei Polonsky was detained in Cambodia in November on an island off the southwestern city of Sihanoukville after a request by the Russian government, which also sought his extradition.

In August, a Russian court ordered Polonsky's detention after he was charged in absentia for his alleged role in a 5.7 billion rouble (S$218 million) swindle which defrauded more than 80 investors.

Investigators have accused the businessman of orchestrating the scam linked to the construction of a housing complex in 2007-2008.

But Cambodia's Appeals Court on Monday said authorities could not currently extradite Polonsky because he faces a separate trial in Cambodia over allegations he attacked the crew of a boat, according to his Cambodian lawyer.

The court ordered the property tycoon's immediate release, Benson Samay said, adding the allegations against his client in Russia were based on a "turf war" over his business interests.

A jubilant Polonsky spoke to reporters outside the court.

"I am happy... I win, we win," he said.

"I am not guilty. I am a businessman," he continued, adding that he would stay in Cambodia and start a "big project" to develop a number of islands.

Polonsky, who is believed to have business interests in Cambodia, was previously detained on New Year's Eve in 2012 in Sihanoukville over accusations he and two other Russians threatened a Cambodian boat crew at knifepoint.

He was granted provisional release in April last year after spending three months in a Cambodian prison.

Polonsky, 41, is an outspoken real estate tycoon whose extravagant behaviour and racy business slogans have repeatedly raised eyebrows in Russia.

His business nosedived after the onset of the 2008 global financial crisis, forcing him to abandon work on Moscow's Federation Tower, which he had hoped would become the tallest building in Europe.