Mu Sochua (right) with democracy icon and Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon late last year. Photograph: supplied
It goes without saying that the extradition or deportation of Alexander Trofimov is long overdue. However, questions still remain about the irregularities in the sentencing and pardoning of this serial sex offender. The entire case has been riddled with inconsistencies and allegations of high-level corruption. The shortcomings of the Cambodian judiciary have only served to compound the culture of impunity that exists in this country.
Trofimov, who became the focus of Cambodia’s largest-ever paedophilia case, had been convicted of procuring sex from 17 girls between the ages of six and 13. Trofimov himself admitted to sexually abusing 16 of the girls.
During the appeal process, the Russian Embassy in Phnom Penh requested his extradition stating that Trofimov was wanted for the sexual abuse of at least three minors in Russia. The Russian Embassy’s statement added to the wealth of evidence which showed that there was absolutely no doubt that Trofimov was a serious and dangerous serial sex offender and that the likelihood of him reoffending was extremely high.
Although Trofimov was originally sentenced to 17 years in jail, his term was slashed on appeal to just seven years in August 2010, and the amounts of compensation he was due to pay his victims were reduced to minimal amounts. Whilst he was imprisoned in Sihanoukville, reports abounded of his favourable treatment and there were numerous sightings of him out and about in the town. The prison guards themselves admitted that he had been released on occasions with the justification that he’d been a ‘model prisoner’. Such special treatment must have come at a price, and with his unlimited resources, there was very little Trofimov could not afford – including the support from government officials for a royal Pardon.
To the disbelief of all, in December 2011 the Ministry of Justice, supposedly through the Council of Ministers, had requested the King to issue a Pardon for Trofimov. The convicted sex offender was immediately released and with no effective monitoring in place, he was free to reoffend against vulnerable minors with little fear of any repercussions. This clearly demonstrates Cambodia’s lack of a functioning judiciary and the culture of impunity.
The release of Trofimov sends a very negative message to the many victims and survivors of sexual abuse in Cambodia who have had the courage to report and appear in court to testify about the abuse they have suffered. It also reflects very poorly on Cambodia and gives the message that this is a safe haven for child-sex offenders.
Despite concerns expressed by NGOs, as well as by the local and international community, it still took until March this year for the Minister of the Interior to revoke Trofimov’s visa. The final arrest on June 4 only came about because concerns were reported to the police after Trofimov was observed living with a local family, including an 11-year-old girl.
My concern and thoughts remain with the victims of Trofimov’s abuse. Very little consideration was given to the impact that the abuse would have had on these young girls in the short term, many of whom suffered repeated rapes over the course of many months. But the longer lasting legacies will surely stay with these girls for the rest of their lives.
And now, because someone in the government chose to Pardon Trofimov, even though he clearly posed a serious menace, countless other young girls have also been put at risk. Only this week we learn that instead of being extradited to Russia where he should be facing more prison time for his crimes, Trofimov is being put on a plane to Seoul in South Korea where he will inevitably abuse again.
This whole episode raises serious concerns about child protection in Cambodia. The message conveyed by the government has been loud and clear: the children of Cambodia should not expect protection if the price for their exploitation is right.
Mu Sochua is a deputy leader of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.