KAMPOT provincial court sentenced a French man to one year in prison on Monday, finding him guilty of committing indecent acts against two underage boys after downgrading an initial charge of purchasing child prostitution.
Jean Marie Beranger, 61, was arrested last September in Sihanoukville on suspicion of sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy. He was released on bail by Preah Sihanouk provincial court and was arrested in Kep province in December after being accused of sexually abusing two boys aged 12 and 16.
During Monday’s hearing, presiding judge Tak Kimsear ordered Beranger to pay each victim 1 million riels (US$238) in compensation on top of a fine of 2 million riels ($476).
Noun Panith, a lawyer provided to the victims by child protection NGO Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE), said afterwards that the decision to downgrade the charges had been “unacceptable”. Beranger faced two to five years in prison under the previous charge.
“There was enough evidence against the man ... and the two boys proved in the hearing that they had been sexually abused by the suspect,” he said.
He said Beranger had fled to Phnom Penh following his release on bail last year, and that APLE suspected he had abused several boys in the city before his arrest in Kep.
But defence lawyer Tan Meng Sroy said Monday that there had been insufficient evidence against his client.
“He didn’t commit the crime like the allegations claim, and he has denied it at all levels of investigation since his arrest,” he said.
Also Monday, Preah Sihanouk provincial court postponed for the fifth time a hearing against a French man charged with the unlawful removal with purpose and the unlawful removal for cross-border transfer of two underage boys and the sexual abuse of five underage boys.
The hearing was postponed because both the defendant and his lawyer were absent.
Roger Michel Blanchard, 44, was arrested in August 2008 for sexually abusing five Cambodian boys ages 11 to 16 in Sihanoukville. The other charges were brought in April this year in connection with allegations that he engaged in sexual acts with a 17-year-old boy, also in Sihanoukville.
Peng Maneth, a lawyer provided by APLE, said the case had become a “a waste of our time”.
“The defence lawyer has intentions of extending the court’s procedure by not informing court officials in advance of his absentia,” she said.
If found guilty, Blanchard faces 15 to 20 years for each charge, she said.