Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Island dream on hold, for now

Island dream on hold, for now

Koh Dek Koul, the former island residence of fugitive tycoon Sergei Polonsky
Koh Dek Koul, the former island residence of fugitive tycoon Sergei Polonsky, off the coast of Preah Sihanouk province in January.

Island dream on hold, for now

Speaking during an interview in December, fugitive Russian tycoon Sergei Polonsky told the Post of his ambitious scheme to build a $1 billion eco-tourism network on the islands he claimed to own off the Cambodian coast.

He said the admittedly self-financed project, titled “Project Archipelago”, would be a place of respite for tourists looking for something more than a simple vacation.

“Here there wouldn’t be any nationalities, there wouldn’t be any religious dogmas, there would be no warlike aggression,” he said.

“It’s very important what we are doing here.”

But after the tycoon’s deportation for an overdue visa on Sunday morning to face charges of embezzlement in his homeland, the fate of his assets in the country remains unclear.

Polonsky claimed to own or co-own eight islands off the Cambodian coast, two of which saw significant development.

On Koh Dek Koul, his headquarters and the subject of a legal dispute with his former partner Nikolai Doroshenko, he built an extravagant lair, complete with a fully-equipped office for his legal and administrative staff and a rooftop swimming pool.

On Koh Damlong, some 60 kilometres from the Cambodian coast and the first step in Project Archipelago, Polonsky just finished setting up a resort earlier this year, where tourists could buy a night in one of the 25 bungalows for $40.

Both Koh Dek Koul and Koh Damlong have been evacuated of their staff and ceased all operations, with navy patrol boats guarding the waters around them.

“All the foreign [employees of Polonsky], all the staff, are all on the mainland or in the jails,” said Pierre Kann, who developed Koh Damlong for Polonsky.

Kann has been left in the lurch by the tycoon’s sudden departure. His construction company, which was planning to build a meditation area, lounge bar, and other developments on the island, will have to let go almost its entire workforce of around 100 builders, he said.

“There are still loads of things to be sorted.”

Polonsky’s islands were bought on 99-year leases from the Cambodian government, which includes a stipulation that the islands be developed, or they will be taken back by the government.

Ho Vandy, co-chair of the Government-Private Sector Working Group on Tourism, said that in Polonsky’s case the developments would likely be taken into possession by the government through the Cambodia Development Council, and then could fall into the hands of another private investor.

“We do not know the details from the CDC yet, but from our private sector we want to see development [and] progress”, he said.

Vandy warned that the Cambodian government should “know clearly about the history of the investors” who aim to develop Cambodian islands.

Polonsky was far from the first to eye Cambodia’s tropical islands.

Of the many previous schemes to develop them into integrated tourism resorts, including Russian-backed projects on Koh Puous and Koh Tang, none have been completed so far.

Nevertheless, James Padden, surveyor at real estate firm CBRE, said the Polonsky saga would likely not deter investors interested in building up the islands.

“There is interest in some of the island developments and getting them off the ground. I think it’ll start in the next 5 years or so.”

“I think [Polonsky] was just kind of a wild cowboy character.”

Neither the CDC or the governor of Preah Sihanouk could be reached for comment yesterday.

MOST VIEWED

  • NY sisters inspired by Khmer heritage

    Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Cambodian-American sisters Edo and Eyen Chorm have always felt a deep affinity for their Cambodian heritage and roots. When the pair launched their own EdoEyen namesake jewellery brand in June, 2020, they leaned heavily into designs inspired by ancient Khmer

  • Schools drawn into Manet degree row

    Prime Minister Hun Sen stepped into the Hun Manet-Sam Rainsy war of words over the validity of Manet’s degree from the US Military Academy at West Point, set off by Rainsy’s claims that Manet had received a “second-class degree” or “honorary degree”. Hun

  • Cambodia records first Omicron community case

    The Ministry of Health on January 9 reported 30 new Covid-19 cases, 29 of which were imported and all were confirmed to be the Omicron variant. The ministry also reported 11 recoveries and no new deaths. Earlier on January 9, the ministry also announced that it had detected the Kingdom's

  • The effects of the USD interest rate hike on Cambodian economy

    Experts weigh in on the effect of a potential interest rate expansion by the US Federal Reserve on a highly dollarised Cambodia Anticipation of the US Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike in March is putting developing economies on edge, a recent blog post by

  • PM eyes Myanmar peace troika

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has suggested that ASEAN member states establish a tripartite committee or diplomatic troika consisting of representatives from Cambodia, Brunei and Indonesia that would be tasked with mediating a ceasefire in Myanmar. The premier also requested that Nippon Foundation chairman Yohei Sasakawa

  • NagaWorld protest part of ‘conspiracy’

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Court and police held a joint-press conference on January 4 to clarify details concerning the arrest of nine former employees of the integrated resort NagaWorld and the charges brought against them, saying that the authorities had clear grounds for taking legal action.