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Court slashes sex crime sentence

Court slashes sex crime sentence

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A Belgian national convicted in 2006 under the old debauchery laws had his original 18-year sentence reduced to just three years, causing alarm among anti-paedophile NGOs

AFP

Belgian Philippe Dessart leaves the Phnom Penh Court of Appeals after his hearing Tuesday.

AN appeals court Tuesday reduced by 15 years the sentence of a Belgian paedophile convicted of sexually abusing a Cambodian boy, citing a change in child abuse laws.

Philippe Dessart was arrested in April 2006 in Phnom Penh and charged with debauchery for the sexual abuse of a 13-year-old boy in a Veal Vong district guesthouse. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Presiding judge Oum Sarith said Tuesday the Court of Appeals upheld the November 2006 conviction by a lower court, but changed the charge from debauchery to indecent acts with a minor.

The court reduced Dessart's sentence to three years and imposed a fine of six million riels (US$1,500).

According to an announcement by the court, Dessart will spend only six more months in prison to complete the three-year term.

"I'm very satisfied with the announcement," said Dessart's defense lawyer, Nou Chantha, who attended the court hearing without his client.

"I will not file further appeals to the Supreme Court."

Dessart, 47 at the time of his arrest, first made contact with the boy through a local NGO before cultivating a private relationship with the child's family. The government's Anti-Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Unit arrested Dessart after acting on a tip from French NGO Action Pour les Enfants (APLE).   

Change in the law

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.

Samleang Seila, country director for APLE, criticised the court's decision, saying it puts Cambodia's children at risk.

"I am very concerned about the reduction of Dessart's sentence," Samleang Seila said.

"It is an incentive for Dessart and other offenders to continue abusing our children. I am really not happy with the court.... The reduction of the sentence gives him more of a chance to commit further acts of abuse in Cambodia, and it is very concerning."

Dessart has admitted he was convicted in 1992 of child sex charges in Belgium and imprisoned for three years, but has repeatedly insisted he has done nothing wrong in Cambodia since first arriving in the country in 2001.

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.

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