Accused Italian pedophile Luigi Falchi was freed Thursday after a Banteay Meanchey provincial court judge reduced the debauchery charges against him to sexual harassment and suspended the remainder of a one-year prison sentence, lawyers for the victims and the defendant said.
Falchi, 28, was arrested in November after allegedly sexually abusing three boys, aged 10, 11 and 12, in a Poipet guest house. At the time of his arrest, police also took into custody four teen-aged boys accused of procuring the youngsters for Falchi.
Falchi repeatedly denied the charges. Falchi and the four “accomplices” were each sentenced to one year in jail, but were released on time served. They had each spent more than eight months in jail since their arrest, said Chhum Sophea, the lawyer for the victims.
Banteay Meanchey Judge Tob Chan Sereivuth told Agence France-Presse that Falchi “received a minor sentence because his case was not one of pedophilia.” The judge told the news agency that there was evidence suggesting that Falchi was incapable of performing sexually.
“He cannot have regular sex like other people, so he was charged for exposing himself,” Tob Chan Sereivuth told AFP.
Chhum Sophea said none of the witnesses appeared in court because court officials could not locate them. The only evidence, he said, was the statements given by the boys at the time of the arrest, the testimony of the guest house owner and $120 confiscated from the middlemen.
Falchi’s lawyer, Chhay Bunthoeun, said his client would cross the border at Poipet this morning on his way to Bangkok, but he may have difficulty since his passport was stolen when police raided the guest house.
Falchi was the second European to be convicted of sex-related charges in the last month. On July 16 Italian Alain Fillipe Berruti, 29, was sentenced in Phnom Penh to 10 years in prison for sexually abusing four young boys.
Laurence Gray, program director at the NGO World Vision, admitted the Berruti sentence “does give some indication of the scope of the penalties for this type of crime, but the charges being reduced in the [Falchi case] gives another message.”
Consistency in sentencing is part of the judiciary’s function, Gray said, and “as Cambodia continues to develop I am hopeful to see greater consistency in sentencing in crimes against children.”
Gray was careful to note, however, that there is concern that a much greater number of sex crimes committed by Cambodians against other Cambodians is being overshadowed by high-profile cases involving westerners.
He cited cases of rape and severe sexual abuse in Cambodia where sentences are often as short as two years. “The penalties should be consistent,” he said.
Naly Pilorge, deputy director of the human rights group Licadho, said she understood why the Western press devotes so much space to Western offenders, though she noted that “99 percent” of the cases Licadho handles are domestic.
“I think it is natural for the Western press to put emphasis on Western offenders because their audience is expatriates,” she said. And “we are pleased that in the last few years that the media has been so vital in highlighting the important issue of sex crimes against children.”