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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - US man held on sex charges

US man held on sex charges

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Suspect, who court says was target of monthlong investigation, faces 15 years in prison if convicted of paying to have sex with a 13-year-old Cambodian girl

HENG CHIVOAN

American Jason Todd Baumbach is escorted by police into the Phnom Penh Municipal Court Friday.

An American man was charged Friday with purchasing sex from a minor after being arrested for allegedly carrying on a long-term sexual relationship with a 13-year-old Cambodian girl, court officials said.

Jason Todd Baumbach, 40, was arrested last Tuesday after a monthlong investigation by the Ministry of Interior's Anti-human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Unit, according to Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Sok Kalyan.

"He [Baumbach] is in Prey Sar prison now," Sok Kalyan told the Post Sunday, adding that Baumbach faces between seven and 15 years in prison if convicted.

Baumbach, who arrived in Cambodia in 2007, met the girl through her sister, Sok Kalyan said. He added that pornographic videos, including child pornography, were found in Baumbach's home by police.

"The videos aren't directly related to the charges but we think there might be a link since he might have been using them to teach the girl about various sexual acts," he said.

Ke Sakhan, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge investigating the case, could not be reached for comment Sunday.

According to Teng Manet, a lawyer at the anti-paedophile watchdog group Action Pour Les Enfants, Baumbach allegedly paid US$100 a month for the girl's English-language lessons in exchange for having sex with her in his rented house.

Under Cambodian law, it is illegal to have sex with anyone under the age of 16 years, even if the act is consensual.

Dozens of foreigners have been jailed for child-sex crimes or deported to face trial in their home countries since Cambodia launched an anti-paedophilia push in 2003 in a bid to shake off its reputation as a haven for sex predators.

Seven foreign nationals have been arrested on accusations of paedophilia so far this year, compared with eight during all of last year, according to Bith Kimhong, director of the Interior Ministry's anti-human trafficking department.

He attributed the relative rise in arrests of child-sex offenders to efforts by the Cambodian government, in particular in enforcing the new law on trafficking.

Cambodia used to apply its debauchery law to almost all sex crimes, but has recently updated its statutes to include the new charge of indecent acts.

The new law came under fire from anti-paedophile NGOs at the end of last month when it was used to reduce the debauchery charge against Belgian national Philippe Dessart.

The 47-year-old had originally been sentenced to 18 years in prison, but had his punishment reduced to just three years after being retroactively charged with indecent acts.

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