A joint police task force yesterday executed a series of search warrants on Siem Reap province homes and businesses connected to Dutch pedophile Pieter Ceulen.
Ceulen was given a 19-year sentence in absentia by a Belgian court on January 21 for distribution of child pornography and sex offences against children. That same day, he was allegedly seen arriving at his Siem Reap villa by neighbours, a sighting that matches up with Cambodian immigration records of his arrival.
The 60-year-old was placed on Interpol’s wanted list but the necessary documents and requests from Belgian authorities were not received by officials in Cambodia until February 25, according to Child Protection Unit (CPU) director James McCabe.
“Task force ‘Echo’ was established on March 2 after information was received by the Cambodian National Police from the Belgian and Netherlands police services after they requested assistance in locating and arresting [Ceulen],” McCabe said yesterday.
The task force includes members of the Ministry of Interior’s judicial police, anti-human trafficking police, Siem Reap anti-human trafficking police and CPU investigators.
Arriving in Siem Reap on March 3, investigations carried out by the task force led to the execution of six search warrants yesterday on Ceulen’s properties and businesses as well as those of his son.
Siem Reap provincial police chief Sort Nady, on the phone yesterday said “we used between four and 10 officials in [each search] operation”.
“We have looked for him but we have not found him yet, and we have checked seven or eight places,” Nady said, adding that investigators are “not sure” Ceulen is in the country, although McCabe maintained investigators have reason to believe he is.
“Valuable intelligence” was gained from the searches, McCabe said, but he declined to elaborate due to the nature of the ongoing investigation.
Task force leader In Bora, head of the Interior Ministry’s Central Judicial Police Department, said Dutch and Belgian authorities have been liaising throughout the operation.
“The technical teams are looking for him [Ceulen] . . . with [Dutch and Belgian] authorities who have contacted us. Now the relevant authorities are working on it,” he said.
According to McCabe, Dutch authorities have liaised on the ground with Cambodian officials twice in the last fortnight and he expects further communication “in the near future”.
The last confirmed sighting of Ceuleun was “January 24 at his residence”, McCabe said.
“It was a family meeting . . . quite an intense meeting,” he said, adding “the suspect had been planning his attempts to avoid apprehension for some time”.
As to why it took well over a month for a warrant to be issued, McCabe said “there are . . . formal requests that must be made; if the formalities are not followed, it can jeopardise the outcome of the arrest”.
Kris Luyckx, lawyer for Belgian child protection organisation Child Focus, said the wait was “a normal situation in cases like these”, adding “my client is very pleased with the cooperation”.
An appeal hearing for Ceulen’s case has been set for May 12 in Belgium, Luyckx continued, adding “it will be important for him to show up”.
According to McCabe, Cambodian authorities “acted immediately and thoroughly . . . and they should be commended”.
Last night, McCabe appealed to Ceulen to call the CPU Hotline at 078-959-090 and accept the “inevitable”. “It’s in his best interests to surrender himself to the CPU or the authorities, because he will be located,” he said.