Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Anger at clearing of Rome suspect

Anger at clearing of Rome suspect

Anger at clearing of Rome suspect

CAO Leng Huot, the alleged child smuggler, and his accomplices trafficked up to 20

children out of Cambodia in 1996 before he and four minors were intercepted at Rome

late last year, Hong Kong police have revealed.

Hout was arrested at Fiumicino international airport, Rome, Nov 30 as he attempted

to bring the children into Europe on a falsified Belgian passport.

"Thirteen trips were made using a similar MO [Modus Operandi] as to that used

by the Cao Group," according to a report by the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau

(OCTB) of Hong Kong police "Around 20 minors - including the intercepted Group

- were involved in these trips."

The report, which was confirmed by OCTB chief inspector Mark Ford-McNicoll, also

said that, in the month leading up to his arrest by Italian police, Huot and his

associates engaged in as many as five child-runs from Phnom Penh to New York and

Rome via Hong Kong.

"We cannot know what they were being trafficked for, because the other groups

were never picked-up," Ford-McNicoll told the Post by telephone.

He was speaking days after an Italian prosecutor ruled that Huot was not smuggling

the children into Europe to supply the child-sex and prostitution industries - or

even the body organ trade - on the continent.

The prosecutor ruled that Huot was in fact a courier in a clandestine operation to

re-unite three of the four children with their Chinese parents - illegal immigrants

- in France. The fourth and eldest child, it turned out, was helping Huot.

In the wake of the Feb 8 ruling, Cambodian police nevertheless remained skeptical

about the affair.

Cambodian Interpol police general Skadavy M Ly Roun said that Huot has a criminal

past in France which should be taken into account, although the Italians say it has

no bearing on the Rome prosecutor's investigation.

"We have evidence of his criminal record in France," said Skadavy. "I

tried to get confirmation of this evidence from France, but the French authorities

did not provide me with any information about Cao Leng Huot."

A spokesman for the French Embassy in Phnom Penh declined to respond to Skadavy's

claim, but an official with the Italian Embassy in Bangkok did comment on it.

"Even if someone has been a criminal before, and he did something in the past

that was worse than this, it really doesn't matter in the case presented before the

public prosecutor," the official said. "He will base his decision on the

evidence that has been gathered by Italian police."

Citing lack of information, he would not confirm whether Italian police received

information on Huot's criminal record, and withheld comment on what happened to the

case of a second Cambodian man who was implicated in the case.

Youn Kim Tech, the holder of an Italian passport, and a suspected kingpin in the

child-smuggling syndicate, was picked-up in Rome on Nov 30, within hours of Huot's

arrest.

According to Skadavy, Huot is also known in Sino-Khmer circles as "Meng 13"

- 13 signifying the number of the Parisian district where there is a high concentration

of Cambodian immigrants.

Meng 13, Skadavy claims, was a local racketeer in the 1970s and 80s who was arrested

four times by French police, before he eventually returned to his native Cambodia

in the mid-90s. The charges filed against him included selling drugs and procuring

prostitutes.

"Cao Leng Huot was closely connected to prostitution," Skadavy said. "In

France, he was arrested twice for [involvement in] prostitution."

In 1988, Huot was sentenced to five years in prison after a Thai prostitution ring

he headed was broken-up in a suburb of Vincennes, the Interpol chief added.

In the opinion of another police source, given Huot's lurid past and the seriousness

of the charges filed against him in November, Western investigators should have been

sent to Cambodia immediately after his arrest to make inquiries.

"I am deceived by the result of this investigation, because we believe there

are many more angles to this affair that have not been uncovered so far," the

source said. "My feeling is that the investigation was not conducted thoroughly

enough.

"In important criminal cases such as this, European and American police should

travel to Cambodia to investigate these matters locally, by working together with

their Cambodian colleagues.

"In the case of Cao Leng Huot, given the gravity of the charges, the Italians

should have sent investigators to Phnom Penh within 48 hours of his arrest."

The source explained that Huot could have indeed been involved in an isolated case

of clandestine immigration, but this does not rule out the possibility that he was

previously involved in more criminal forms of child-trafficking.

Meanwhile, in a bid to help local police combat the growing incidence of human trafficking

in and out of Cambodia - and other organized crime-related activities - the US Immigration

and Naturalization Service (INS) just concluded a two-day seminar in Phnom Penh on

fraudulent document detection.

The INS donated infra-red scanners that will be used at Cambodian points of exit-and-entry

to detect doctored or fake passports.

"Cambodia has become a relative transit point in terms of the movement of illegal

aliens," Ralph Folester of the INS told reporters at the end of the seminar

Feb 12.

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