Dr James D’Agostino (right), of New York, enters Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday. Photo by: Hong Menea
THE case against an American doctor accused of purchasing three boys for sex unraveled yesterday, with the prosecution telling the judge it believed defendant James D’Agostino was innocent.
Deputy prosecutor Heang Sopheak told Phnom Penh Municipal Court that he was dropping all charges against the 57-year-old doctor, who has said he came to Cambodia to help the poor.
“Based on the [previous] hearings as well as investigations, research, evidence, the suspect’s answers and the testimonies of the [alleged] victims, the suspect did not commit the crimes as accused. So, I decided to drop the charges against him,” Heang Sopheak told presiding Judge Suos Sam Ath.
Heang Sopheak also asked that the three boys, aged seven to 14, be allowed to leave a shelter run by a Christian NGO, Hagar International, and return to their parents’ homes. The boys’ mothers made the same request, alleging that Hagar staff had forced their sons to make false accusations against the doctor.
Hagar could not be reached for comment last night.
Suos Sam Ath said that D’Agostino was charged with purchasing child prostitutes by the court on February 18, after his arrest two days earlier by police at his rented home in Tuol Kork district’s Tuol Sangke commune.
In both previous hearings, D’Agostino flatly denied the charges.
Yesterday he reiterated his innocence, saying: “I have not broken any Cambodian laws. I did not have sex with these three boys as accused”.
But Seng Sokhim, the lawyer for the boys, pointed to police reports and alleged pornography seized by police from D’Agostino’s home as proof that the man had committed the crimes.
Samleang Sila, country director for Actions Pour Les Enfants, accused the prosecutor of failing to defend the boys and suggested that the lawyer selected for them after the previous one was fired was too close to D’Agostino’s lawyer.
“I believe that if this case was defended by APLE’s lawyers, we would have success and the suspect would be jailed and punished according to the law because we had enough evidence to charge him,” Samleang Sila added.
Suos Sam Ath is scheduled to deliver his verdict on October 24.