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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Siem Reap hotelier still awaits trial

Siem Reap hotelier still awaits trial

He had been living in his villa with numerous young boys

Former luxury hotel manager Rudolph Knuchel will be swapping the opulence of five-star digs for Siem Reap Jail, out among the dusty rice fields of Chreav commune, this New Year. His company in the flat, walled compound will not be the well-heeled tourists he was once used to either. This year he will be rubbing shoulders with his royal blue pyjama-wearing fellow inmates and lots of buzzing flies.

The 62-year-old Swiss national is fighting his second sexual abuse charge in 10 years in Cambodia – in 2002 he was acquitted of raping two boys, trafficking women and children for prostitution, running a brothel, and drug and organ trafficking. He now faces new charges of raping two teenage boys. Immigration police Major Chao Maovireak says that the boys complained to the police and Knuchel was arrested in August.

Incriminating pornography was also found on his computer, according to Maj Chao and Yin Srang, chief clerk at the prosecutor's office at Siem Reap provincial court.

Knuchel was formerly general manger at the Grand Hotel (now Raffles Hotel d’Angkor) before doing stints at Royal Angkor Resort and Allson Angkor Hotel. Regarding his first acquittal, Knuchel claimed that he was being framed because he owned coveted property on Sivutha Boulevard.

The charges at the time do seem pretty extensive; trafficking women, children, drugs and organs while working a full-time job?

In the 2002 trial many members of the Siem Reap expat community vouched for Knuchel and testified for him at trial. But getting arrested twice for child sexual abuse sure doesn’t look good.

Upon being visited, Knuchel seemed entirely too cheerful considering his situation. He did not have much to say about the case though. The white-haired man emerged shirtless from one of the low-slung huts inside the jail and exchanged a bizarrely friendly greeting with Maj Chao, who arrested him back in August. He ribbed the major that he was gaining weight, poking him in the belly. Knuchel, who wears a cropped white beard and walks with a cane, did say that he and his lawyers were appealing and they would reveal their argument to the press in due time.

He then became irritated because he had thought his family was visiting him, when it was actually only a lowly reporter and Maj Chao. Knuchel did have some comments on living arrangements in Siem Reap Jail though. “It’s the best prison in the whole world. Conditions are great,” he said merrily as he walked away.

“Don’t bring the press to me unless I ask for them!” he then shouted to no one in particular; his mood changing to anger on a dime.
Later, Maj Chao noted that the former hotelier looked extremely skinny compared to when he arrested him. “Before, he was fat,” Maj Chao laughed casually.

Action pour les Enfants (APLE), an anti-paedophilia NGO, was involved in the arrest of Knuchel in August. Samleang Seila, APLE Cambodia director, says that they had been observing Knuchel for two years and he had been living in his rented villa in Siem Reap with numerous young boys.

“He was providing support to them and their families so they wouldn’t testify against him. We weren’t involved in his case in 2002, wbut we found documents that said the victims refused to testify against him then because he paid them,” says Samleang Seila. He claims that, as APLE taught the boys more about sexual abuse and their rights, they became more willing to testify and did so in August.

Samleang Seila reports that over 1,000 images and videos of child porn were found on Knuchel’s computer, including home videos of Knuchel playing with boys at a swimming pool. But he claims that the investigation is proceeding improperly with the evidence.

“We weren’t able to make copies of the pornography because the court said they didn’t have the material. Then they said the computer was broken. We asked to send the evidence outside the country to a Swiss expert and were denied. Then we asked for the evidence to be examined by a local expert and were denied again. We’re appealing this,” he says.

Siem Reap county clerk Yin Srang did not have an estimate for when Knuchel’s trial will be, although Samleang Seila hopes it will happen within three to four months.

None of Knuchel’s former work colleagues had anything bad to say about him. He worked at the Royal Angkor Resort for four months in 2006 without incident.

“We didn’t have any problems while he was with us,” reports Rany An from the bookings division of the hotel.

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