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Russian man sentenced in absentia for child sex crimes

Russian man sentenced in absentia for child sex crimes

NGO says the accused, convicted of abusing three young boys in 2008, fled in August after his first sentence was suspended.

PHNOM Penh's Court of Appeal on Wednesday sentenced in absentia a convicted Russian paedophile to three years in prison, upholding an appeal by the prosecution, which argued that his original sentence was too weak and should never have been suspended.

Nikita Velov, 27, was arrested in January 2008 on suspicion of committing indecent acts with three boys aged 7 to 14 in Preah Sihanouk. At the time of his arrest, he was with one of the boys in a guesthouse.

He was found guilty in August by Preah Sihanouk provincial court, but his sentence was suspended, and he is believed to have fled the country not long after.  

"We announced the verdict in absentia to convict Velov to serve a three-year jail sentence and ordered him to pay 15 million riels [US$3,602]combined to the three boys," Presiding Judge Nhoung Thol told the Post Wednesday.

The country director for the  child rights NGO Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE) said Velov left Cambodia for Thailand via the Poipet border crossing last August.

"We are not sure whether the appeal judges at the hearing this morning knew or pretended not to know that the accused man left Cambodia through the Poipet border on August 5, 2008, wearing a wig," Samleang Seila said, adding that Velov had been released on bail after serving his initial sentence of six months.

Nhuong Thol told the Post Wednesday that he had "made the assumption that the man was not released".  

"But if the man left Cambodia through the Poipet border like APLE says, we would then follow our ongoing procedure to investigate the man," he added.

Velov's defence lawyer, Nuon Chantha, declined to comment on his client's whereabouts Wednesday.

"It is a mystery why the court did not let us know clearly where the man is - whether he is in prison or whether he has fled Cambodia," said Peng Maneth, a lawyer working for APLE.

"We were completely sure that the accused left Cambodia, based on information we have received from the Ministry of Interior's Department of Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection," Samleang Seila said. 

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