An international child protection charity yesterday called on the government to review the bail and sentencing of a German pedophile who on Monday failed to attend his hearing for committing indecent acts on two boys aged 12 and 14.
Walter Orson Novak, 47, was arrested in March last year on Preah Sihanouk City’s O’Chheuteal beach and released on bail just over a month later. On Monday he was convicted of abusing the boys and given a one-year sentence, reduced to two months, and ordered to pay 500,000 riel, about $124, in compensation to each boy. His whereabouts remains unknown.
“Novak should never have been allowed bail – he was clearly a flight risk and a threat to children,” CEO of Child Wise, Bernadette McMenamin, said in a statement. “To protect children worldwide, the Cambodian Government needs to stop child sex offenders being granted bail.”
Ms McMenamin also condemned Mr Novak’s jail term, noting that Article 43 of the Human Trafficking law requires a sentence of one to three years for committing an indecent act against a minor.
“It is less than half of the sentence that the Cambodian Law stipulates should be given to someone who has committed the crimes for which Novak was found guilty,” she said. “How can justice ever be served in Cambodia if the Cambodian justice system is ignoring the penalties outlined in Cambodian Law?”
Khun Sophal, Mr Novak’s lawyer, defended his client’s release on bail and punishment.
“The case is a misdemeanor, so the judge can decide to release my client on bail,” he said, adding that the court had confiscated Mr Novak’s passport to minimize risk of flight.
“The sentence is not small…because the court did not have enough evidence to punish my client.” Mr Sophal said Mr Novak planned to appeal the conviction, but he declined to comment on Mr Novak’s whereabouts.
Patrick Stayton, field office director for International Justice Mission, said that sex offenders should be released on bail only in exceptional cases.
“When looking at bail, we have to get serious about the obligation the justice system has to protect the children that these offenders target.”
Justice Ministry officials could not be reached yesterday.