The founder of an informal English-language school who police allege allowed pedophiles access to children under his care was arrested in Siem Reap yesterday in an operation involving four different government agencies and an NGO.
Long Ven, 33, who goes by the name Waha, founded the Underprivileged Children School in Knapau commune’s Sambat village in 2008. The school offers English classes to about 60 children from the surrounding area.
The head of Phnom Penh’s Child Protection Unit (CPU), former Australian Federal Police (AFP) officer James McCabe, said the investigation began about five months ago after a former foreign volunteer at the school made a complaint that children were being made available to pedophiles.
The CPU is a joint venture between the Cambodian Children’s Fund and the National Police.
McCabe said that Ven, a former monk, had also illegally solicited donations for the school, which was not registered with any provincial or national authorities, while falsely telling donors that it was an orphanage.
He said the suspect was still being questioned by police last night but faced potential charges of “illegally running an NGO, fraud and trafficking children”. McCabe added that the local police were also liaising with foreign authorities regarding the case.
“We believe at least two boys have been sexually assaulted by foreign male volunteers at the school,” he said.
Working undercover yesterday, McCabe and another Westerner assisting police who requested anonymity met Ven at the Siem Reap FCC cafe. The suspect was then arrested by plainclothes police.
Ven smiled as he was led away, until he was put into an unmarked SUV.
About 16 students were interviewed by child protection officers at the Sambat Village school, a wooden building with a concrete floor, English-teaching posters on the walls and a small concrete library. Four other teenage boys were also interviewed after being picked up from an apartment rented by Ven in Siem Reap.
Investigators and representatives from the Ministry of Interior’s Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department, Siem Reap Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department, the Siem Reap prosecutor’s office and the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation were involved in the sting.
Brigadier General Sok Reaksmey, the deputy director of the Ministry of Interior’s Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department, said each agency had a role to play.
He cited as an example the need for child protection officers to care for and offer counselling to any victims discovered during the operation.
“Working alone in isolation from other stakeholders, it can be difficult to succeed in our operations,” he said.
Phet Khan, 47, whose two girls aged 6 and 15 years both attended the school, said she never had any worries about sending them there.
“I never thought there was anything to be concerned about,” Khan said. “[Waha] seems to be a good person.”
A 74-year-old man who identified himself only as Long said his daughter taught at the school and he had never heard of any problems there.
However, he said Waha had helped arrange marriages between local women, including widows and foreigners.