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‘No crime’ by Frenchman, judge decides

CONVICTED French paedophile Jean Marie Beranger was found not guilty yesterday of crimes allegedly committed last September against a 13-year-old boy in Preah Sihanouk province, court officials said, outraging the child protection NGO Action Pour Les Enfants.

Presiding judge Plang Samnang said yesterday that there had been a lack of evidence in the case against Beranger, who had been charged with committing indecent acts and was facing three to six years in prison.

“We decided to find him not guilty based on reports from the provincial police chief that there was a lack of sufficient evidence,” he said.

Inconsistencies in the testimonies of witnesses who were counselled by APLE, he said, also contributed to the court’s ruling.

On the night in question, he said, the street where the crimes allegedly occurred would have been heavily lit, meaning witness accounts should have been the same.

“On that night at around 9pm it was light, and the streetlights were turned on,” he said. “Many people walked on the street, and if the victim’s mouth was shut up and his trousers were taken off, he must have screamed, so there is no crime.”

Samleang Seila, country director for APLE, vowed to fight the court’s decision, describing Beranger as a chronic offender. In June, Kampot provincial court convicted Beranger of committing indecent acts against two underage boys and sentenced him to one year in prison.

“We are very disappointed with Preah Sihanouk provincial court’s decision to lift the charges against the accused because we firmly believe the accused really did commit the alleged crimes, based on the facts heard in the victim’s firm testimony,” Samleang Seila said.

Beranger was not present at yesterday’s hearing because he was serving out his sentence in Kampot. His lawyer, Khun Sophal, said he approved of the court’s ruling.

“We are happy with the court’s decision, which is right and just for my client based on insufficient evidence,” Khun Sophal said.

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