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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sex crime crackdown nets tycoon, but still far to go

Sex crime crackdown nets tycoon, but still far to go

Sex crime crackdown nets tycoon, but still far to go

6-sex-charge.jpg
Russian Alexander Trofimov is escorted by police at the Phnom Penh municipal court on March 11. Trofimov, who is the focus of Cambodia's largest-ever pedophilia prosecution, was sentenced to 13 years in prison on March 14 in the first of what is expected to be a series of trials involving the high-profile businessman. TANG CHHIN SOTHY/ AFP

When a prominent Russian

investor at the helm of a $300-million investment project gets 13 years in

prison for having sex with a 14-year-old girl, the message seems clear:

Cambodia is no haven for pedophiles.

But

despite the March 14 conviction of Alexander Trofimov, and a string of other

arrests and prosecutions of Western pedophiles, Cambodia’s fight against sex crime

has only just begun.

“It’s

too early to tell,” said Steve Morrish, director of Sisha, an anti-trafficking

NGO, who was present at Trofimov’s arrest.

“There’s only just a new

trafficking law, the national task force and the higher-level working group are

all new. It takes at least a year or so to see if it is working. You’ll always

see magnificent changes in the first couple of months but we’ll see what

happens when it starts to filter out.”

In

2006, Trofimov’s Koh Puos investment group announced a $300-million plan to

develop Koh Puos island off the coast of Sihanoukville.

Trofimov, 41, was arrested on October 17, 2007 at his Sihanoukville house.

He is

accused of assaulting at least 19 girls during his time in Cambodia, making Trofimov the focus of Cambodia’s

largest-ever pedophilia investigation. More trials are expected soon.

Following

Trofimov’s conviction, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced him to 13 years

in jail for debauchery. It also sentenced Cambodian national Phal Vanra, who

procured the girl for Trofimov, to 11 years in prison for conspiracy. Both were

also ordered to pay compensation of $100,000 to the victim.

During

the hearing on March 11, Trofimov denied he knew the girl and claimed he had

not had sex with her.

The

victim told the court that Vanra had introduced her to a Frenchman – known to

her as Ema – who had sex with her.

Later the girl said she was

taken to a guest house in Sihanoukville and looked after by a woman known as

Sreypov. Sreypov took her to Trofimov with whom the girl said she had

unprotected sex with four times. Sreypov gave the girl $100, the girl said in

court.

Trofimov’s

lawyer, Uch Sophal, told the Post on March 19 that his client wanted the

court to do more investigation in order to find the Frenchman and Sreypov,

saying that they were the people who made this crime happen.

“There is no justice for my

client because there is not enough evidence to prove he is guilty,” he said.

Sophal

added that he had no plans to appeal the verdict and he was not sure if he

would be retained as defense counsel.

Morris

said that while Trofimov’s arrest and prosecution is commendable, without the

assistance of NGOs Cambodia’s law enforcement authorities might not have felt

able to act against the wealthy Russian.

“If

NGOs were not involved they would not have touched him,” he said. “He was

paying police. He has money all over – why touch him?”

Police

Major General Bith Kim Hong, director of the anti-human trafficking and

juvenile protection police, said March 18 that the “number of arrests [for

child sex crimes] is increasing and we are sending a serious message to

would-be pedophiles that they will be prosecuted.”

“After

we formed the new National Task Force against Trafficking in Persons our police

authorities have been increasing law enforcement – both investigations and

crackdowns on the issues linked with human trafficking and exploitation and

debauchery,” he said.

He

anticipated an increase in arrests over the course of 2008 and said action

would be taken not only against the foreigners in such cases but also against

any Cambodians who helped them by procuring children.

“They

will have the same punishment,” he said.

During

Trofimov’s trial, the brother of the victim claimed that the girl was in fact

16, not 14, and demanded the court throw out the case.

“The

trial against the Russian man was based on the evidence, not just the words or

the appeal of any other relative,” Bith Kim Hong said.

“There

are two other court cases connected to him and the court is examining the

complaint by the other 18 girls,” he said, adding that the other trials will be

“very soon.”

Trofimov’s

prosecution is the latest in a string of high-profile prosecutions of

foreigners. Bith Kim Hong said that last year seven pedophiles were arrested by

his department. The police have caught an American, a Russian, a Canadian, a

British, an Austrian and two German pedophiles, he said.

A

62-year-old German man, Walter Muntz, was on March 13 jailed for 15 years after

being convicted of sexually abusing a girl while visiting Phnom Penh.

However,

instances of pedophilia by Westerners represent a small percentage of sex crime

in Cambodia.

“The

government is keen to say Westerners are the problem but in reality Cambodians

are the biggest problem,” Morrish said. “Most of the population is Khmer; it is

Khmers who own and frequent KTV and karaoke bars and brothels.”

Morrish commended the fact

that, at the policy level, the government has undertaken a serious change.

However, he cautioned that their determination to eliminate sexual exploitation

should continue even after Cambodia

has been assessed for the US State department’s trafficking tier rating.

The

tier system is being reassessed in April this year. Cambodia currently has “tier two

watch” status and will either go up to tier two or down to tier three.

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