Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday ordered further investigation into the case of a British national charged with purchasing child prostitution, citing a lack of evidence necessary to convict.
Matthew John Harland, 38, was arrested in May 2010 in a rental house in the capital on suspicion of purchasing child prostitution and committing indecent acts against two underage girls in 2006.
Presiding Judge Kor Vandy yesterday called for further investigation into the owner of the house in which Harland was arrested, as well as evidence presented by the child protection NGO Actions Pours Les Enfant.
Vandy also ordered that Harland remain in pre-trial detention until the court reconvenes for the case, though he did not say when the next hearing would be scheduled.
“It was right and just for the judge to order further investigations, because there are gaping holes in the case where the previous investigating judge lacked hard evidence to find him guilty of the charges,” Harland’s defence lawyer Neang Hay said yesterday.
“I hope that the court will free him from the charges in the next hearing if they still cannot find hard evidence to find him guilty because there was much suspicion in the case.”
However Nuon Phanith, a lawyer provided by APLE to represent the victims, said the evidence against Harland was more than adequate for a conviction.
“We don’t oppose the court’s decision to investigate further, but we believe there is already enough evidence to find him guilty under the charges, based on two victims’ testimonies and that of witnesses,” said Phanith.
Harland pleaded not guilty during his last hearing in November and denied all charges against him.
“I knew the girls from along the riverfront, where they sold books. Later, we kept in touch and went swimming at a water park with several other girls ... but I neither committed indecent acts nor purchased child prostitution,” Harland said.
Under the Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation, Harland could face between seven and 15 years in prison if convicted of purchasing child prostitution, and up to three years if found guilty of committing indecent acts.