The arrest of Cao Leng Huot is part of a worldwide criminal sindicate operating from
Cambodia. Imran Vittachi investigates.
THE Cambodian arrested in Rome - on suspicion of running children into Europe
for the sex-trade - was a courier for a Sino-Khmer triad with criminal contacts and
rackets around the globe, police have confirmed.
Cao Leng Huot was on his way to meet the Rome-based kingpin of a worldwide criminal
syndicate, when he and his "package" - four Chinese children aged between
six and 12 - were picked-up at Fiumicino international airport on Nov 30, according
to Cambodian Interpol Police Gen Skadavy M Ly Roun.
Within hours of his arrest, Italian police raided the metropolitan home of Youn Kim
Tech, a Cambodian man who holds Italian citizenship.
Tech and Huot are suspected to be accomplices for a triad that allegedly is also
capitalizing on a blackmarket in children's body parts.
"We have received confirmation from European police that the four children were
being sent to Europe for paedophilia," Skadavy said.
Police believe that the ages of the children - as well as Huot's criminal record
as a convicted drug-runner - made them prime targets for paedophiles and their commercial
"These children were Chinese from the People's Republic or from Hong Kong,"
Skadavy added. "They were not Cambodians, but we cannot rule out the possibility
that Cao Leng Huot may have smuggled Cambodian children out of the country in the
The Cambodian Interpol chief revealed, nevertheless, that on Nov 15 - only two weeks
before Huot flew to Rome - he took-off from Phnom Penh for New York, in the company
of three children whose nationality has yet to be confirmed.
Skadavy would not go into the details, except that Huot flew to the United States
via Hong Kong and Seoul. As soon as he landed in New York, according to the police
general, Huot dropped-off the children and boarded a commercial flight back to Cambodia.
According to Skadavy, on Nov 29 Huot flew from Phnom Penh to Hong Kong, where he
picked-up his "package" - two boys and two girls - in the transit lounge
at Kai Tak international airport.
The tickets on which Huot and his underage contraband traveled to Europe were bought
at a travel agency in Hong Kong.
Huot then checked-in at the China Airlines transfer desk for the connecting flight
Huot, used a Cambodian passport to embark on the child-run at Pochentong airport,
Skadavy explained, then produced a falsified Belgian passport with the names of "his"
four children listed in it.
On Nov 30, the game was up for Huot as soon as the red-eye from Taipei - flight CI67
- touched-down at Fiumicino.
As the "family" of five were passing through Italian immigration on Huot's
falsified Belgian passport, he was taken into police custody when the eldest girl,
a 12-year old, was overheard saying in French: "He is not my father."
In his briefcase - the only bag toted by the five - police found a collection of
photographs of other children, an address book with worldwide listings, and an authentic
Cambodian passport that was issued to Cao Leng Huot - not an alias - as late as September,
The falsified passport was stolen in September from a Belgian stock of 1,000 blank
passports, sources said.
Both Huot and Tech are now in an Italian jail, while the four children are in the
care of a legal custodian at the juvenile court in Rome.
According to Cambodian Interpol's Skadavy, Huot, a Sino-Khmer who emigrated to France
in the mid-1970s, once served a jail sentence there for trading Golden Triangle heroin
inside the republic.
"Once Huot was freed from jail, because of his criminal background, French police
were supposed to keep him under surveillance," he said. "But by obtaining
and falsifying his Belgian passport, he was able to evade French police."
A spokesman for the French Embassy, citing lack of information and the fact that
the investigation was on-going, declined to comment on the case of Huot.