Citing a lack of evidence, Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Sao Meach on June 29 acquitted 41-year-old British national Paul Ian Bower of charges that he sexually abused two young boys.
Bower, an English teacher working in Phnom Penh, was arrested by municipal police and charged with debauchery on Jan 21 after they accused him of having sex with two boys aged 12 and 14.
“After questioning all sides, there is no evidence,” Sao Meach told the courtroom. Court officials and child protection workers claimed that Bower’s alleged victims retracted their earlier allegations that they had been sexually abused.
Speaking to reporters during a break in the hearing, Bower said that he had done nothing wrong and should not have been arrested.
The 14-year-old boy also told reporters outside the courtroom that he and his brother had visited Bower’s house, but that they were not sexually abused.
“I went [to Bower’s house] to watch wrestling,” he said. “I wore clothes—I was not naked.”
Following his acquittal, a teary-eyed Bower walked across the courtroom and hugged the 12-year-old boy. Hing Bunchea, the court prosecutor, declined to comment on Sao Meach’s decision, but said that he would not be filing an appeal against the acquittal.
Keo Thea, deputy police chief for the municipal anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection bureau, said outside the court that he disagreed with the Sao Meach’s decision.
“In a debauchery case, the matter of evidence is a difficulty,” he said, adding that he believed that the father of the two witnesses coerced his sons into changing their testimony.
The 53-year-old father denied that he influenced their testimony and said that his children were not sexually abused.
Anti-pedophile NGO Action Pour Les Enfants President Darnaudet Thierry said that he was disappointed by the decision, but admitted that there was no physical evidence proving that Bower was guilty.
“There is no evidence in terms of pictures,” he said, adding that the case against Bower relied on the testimony of the children.
“The children changed their testimony,” he added.