Dutch Serial Pedophile Arrested in Phnom Penh

The search for fugitive pedophile Pieter Ceulen ended Friday in Phnom Penh, where the Dutch businessman was arrested after nearly two months on the run, police said.

“Our police arrested the suspect near Independence Monument, then sent him to the department of anti-human trafficking for questioning,” Pol Phithey, director of the department said, adding that Mr. Ceulen was arrested at about 11:30 a.m. while he was in a car.

Pedophile Pieter Ceulen on Friday after his arrest in Phnom Penh. (Child Protection Unit)
Pedophile Pieter Ceulen on Friday after his arrest in Phnom Penh. (Child Protection Unit)

On January 21, Mr. Ceulen was convicted in absentia at a court in Antwerp and sentenced to 19 years in prison for sexually abusing children, as well as creating and distributing child pornography.

Among the victims were three young girls he adopted in Siem Reap province, where he had homes and lived intermittently for years.

Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad reported that police found nearly 400,000 child-pornography photographs and videos on his computer in 2012, some of which show him sexually assaulting and beating newborn babies, and instructing mothers in the Philippines to abuse their own children.

Belgian journalists covering the case, along with child protection groups in both Belgium and Cambodia, believed Mr. Ceulen had fled to Siem Reap City shortly before his conviction.

Friday’s arrest came a day after it was publicly announced that a special task force had been created to search for Mr. Ceulen in Siem Reap province.

The force was made up of provincial and national anti-human trafficking police, judicial police and investigators from the Child Protection Unit (CPU)—a branch of the Cambodian Children’s Fund.

Despite conducting a number of searches on Mr. Ceulen’s assets in Siem Reap on Thursday morning, James McCabe, chief of operations at the CPU, said the group also had information possibly placing the pedophile in Phnom Penh.

“We had intel that suggested he’d been in Phnom Penh for about 48 hours, not to say he has been elsewhere before that,” he said. “He had been frequently moving around a number of provinces.”

Mr. McCabe added that talks had been underway with Mr. Ceulen’s lawyers for 24 hours to “negotiate his surrender” and that the noticeably slimmer and disheveled looking man was resigned to his fate.

“When you’re used to a certain kind of lifestyle it’s hard to be on the run,” he said, adding that he did not believe Mr. Ceulen had committed any crimes against children during his latest stint in Cambodia.

Mr. Ceulen’s lawyer, Dirk Grootjans, told Belgian news outlet De Stanadard on Friday that his client had remained in contact since early February, and would be back in Belgium by Saturday or Sunday.

“After the heavy prison [sentence] he needed some time to settle everything,” he said by way of explaining the escape, adding that an appeal process in Antwerp would begin as scheduled on May 12.

Dirk Depover, chief of communications for a Belgian NGO Child Focus, which has been involved in the case, said it was unlikely that the sentence would be reduced.

“The outcome will be the same,” he said. “There is no way of denying any element of his conviction.” He added that the process of arresting Mr. Ceulen had taken time because officials wanted to be thorough.

“We can all be frustrated it was slower than we would expect… [but] we can’t allow for any mistakes that would jeopardize the case,” he said.

Authorities had reason to be skittish. After the mammoth collection of child pornography was discovered on his computer in 2012, Mr. Ceulen was still allowed under Belgian law to travel to Cambodia and the Philippines, where he abused multiple children.

A television documentary made by Belgian Panorama that aired in January said Mr. Ceulen was a wealthy asset manager who donated to numerous charitable causes—including opening a video interview room for child victims of sexual assault for Antwerp police in 2011.

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