Arrest of Cambodian for abusing three boys a rare event for anti-trafficking police
ACAMBODIAN man has confessed to sexually abusing three underage boys in a case that observers say is a rare example of a local man being tried for child exploitation.
Phong Thanakorn, 47, is charged with committing indecent acts against the boys, aged 14 and 15. He was arrested in April this year following complaints from the victims’ parents.
Prosecutors and anti-exploitation advocates say Phong Thanakorn twice lured the boys from Phnom Penh’s riverside area to his guesthouse in Tonle Bassac commune.
After first denying the charges in a hearing at Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday, Phong Thanakorn admitted that he abused the boys by touching their genitals. He said he didn’t believe at the time he was doing anything wrong.
“I really touched the three boys’ genitals, but I thought it was normal because we are the same sex,” he said.
Phong Thanakorn said he paid the boys US$5 to $10 each time for a “massage”.
Samleang Seila, country director of the NGO Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE), said Phong Thanakorn had been on his organisation’s radar for two weeks. Staff members became suspicious after seeing the man interacting closely with the boys.
Samleang Seila said the man tried to persuade the parents to allow their children to leave with him unaccompanied, telling them he was the director of an orphanage who could give the boys study materials.
Instead, Samleang Seila said, the man brought the boys back to his guesthouse.
The case follows a number of child sexual abuse convictions of foreign men in recent months, including French national Jacques Bernard Rene Collinet, 61, who on Tuesday was sentenced to three years in prison.
The prosecution of local men accused of child sexual abuse is much more unusual, Samleang Seila said.
“It is a very rare case to have Cambodian men accused of indecent acts relating to underage boys, but we have experienced two similar cases in Sihanoukville,” he said.
The nationalities may vary, but the operating methods don’t change, Samleang Seila said.
“The Cambodian paedophile and the foreign paedophile’s tactics are similar, using money and generosity to lure children,” he said.
According to statistics APLE has compiled, 12 foreigners and one Cambodian were arrested for crimes related to child sexual exploitation in 2008, with eight of the foreigners eventually convicted. In 2009, 21 foreigners and three Cambodians were arrested. Seven foreigners have been convicted.
None of the Cambodians were convicted in either year, but the cases are still in the court system, according to APLE.
Under Cambodian law, Phong Thanakorn faces a prison term of one to three years and a fine of between 2 million and 6 million riels (US$481-US$1,444) if convicted.
No date has been set for a verdict announcement.
APLE lawyer Peng Maneth, who represents Phong Thanakom’s three alleged victims, said one of the boys has since died. He said he did not know whether the boy’s death was related to his being abused.
Peng Maneth said the boys’ parents are asking for compensation of US$5,000 each.