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Officials reluctant to charge trafficker

Officials reluctant to charge trafficker

AUTHORITIES are reluctant to press charges against the owner of the Best Western

Cangi Hotel, Richard Chun, for trafficking seven Eastern European girls and coercing

them into prostitution.

Citing lack of evidence, after more than three days' investigation and thorough questioning

of the seven girls, the case has been passed from the prosecutor's office at Phnom

Penh Municipal Court to investigating judge Mong Mony Chakrya. Chakrya has previously

been under pressure from powerful people in other high-profile cases.

Human rights groups believe there is already plenty of evidence against Chun. In

their testimonies, the girls-five Romanians and two Moldovans-have told of being

threatened by Chun when they refused to have sex with customers. And they say they

were forbidden to leave the hotel without being accompanied by one of Chun's staff.

When military police raided the Best Western Cangi Hotel on Aug 13 and rescued the

girls from the two rooms they were sharing, Chun was found in possession of the girls'

passports. He denied involvement in any kind of trafficking or prostitution.

The reluctance to press charges against Chun may indicate the involvement of high-level

officials. The nightclub at the Best Western Tai-Ming Plaza, where the seven girls

were taken every night, is known to be frequented by high-ranking CPP associates.

"That's one reason it is so difficult to combat trafficking," says an NGO

worker who works on trafficking issues. "A lot of the traffickers are protected.

They are connected all the way up."

At least one Government official has been implicated in the affair. So Mara, the

Director-General at the Ministry of Tourism and Director-General of the National

Tourism Authority, had taken one of the Moldovan girls to the beach in Sihanoukville

on the morning of the hotel raid. The girl later returned safely to Phnom Penh.

Mara said she was only with him as a "friend". However, the seven girls

said Mara was a regular customer at the Tai-Ming Plaza nightclub. They said he came

every night, often accompanied by Thai tourists. Karaoke suite No 15 is exclusively

reserved for Mara, according to one investigator.

The court has issued an arrest warrant for the Romanian woman, Norica Topir-ceanu,

who recruited the girls and brought them to Phnom Penh. She has not been seen since

the raid.

The seven girls left Phnom Penh on Aug 16 to fly to their home countries.

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