PHNOM Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday gave a three-year suspended sentence to a 60-year-old French national after finding him guilty of soliciting sex from a 16-year-old girl as well as producing and possessing child pornography.
Judges also ordered Claude Jean-Pierre Demeret to pay 1 million riels (US$240) in compensation to the victim.
Though the sentence drew an outcry from the child-protection NGO that provided a lawyer for the 16-year-old girl, Presiding Judge Chan Madina said it was warranted because of Demeret’s willingness to cooperate with the court. Chan Madina also said she accepted Demeret’s claim that he did not know the age of the victim at the time of the crime and believed she was not a minor.
“Claude Jean-Pierre Demeret confessed to having sex with the girl, but he didn’t know she was 16 years old,” Chan Madina said. “She agreed to sleep with him at Wat Phnom for $5.”
Demeret told the court on January 13 that he had not had intercourse with the victim, though he admitted to having the victim perform a sex act on him.
His defence lawyer, Chong Eav Heng, argued during the December hearing that Demeret had been the victim of entrapment by police and the child-protection NGO Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE). Chan Madina seemed to accept that argument at the time, accusing the victim of having been involved in similar schemes with four other foreigners in recent years.
Samleang Seila, APLE’s executive director, expressed his frustration with the sentence on Tuesday evening, saying it would serve to undermine the efforts of local authorities to stamp out child prostitution.
“This sentence is not acceptable to us, as the charge of pornography was not appropriate,” he said. “The pornographic images depict the girl in sexual contact with [Demeret], which shows that he had sex with an underage girl.”
He added: “This sentence is destroying the efforts of the government and the police departments. In comparison to other cases, this sentence is very light. We were advocating for no suspended sentence or release. This is not a good result.”
He said APLE was preparing to file an appeal that could be submitted as soon as Wednesday.
The victim and her family were not present when the verdict was announced in court yesterday. Chong Eav Heng declined to give a comment.