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
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
"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
"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