Three Chinese nationals charged with attempting to traffic four Cambodian teenagers to China told the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday that the they were trying to help their friends find wives and that the teenagers had willingly agreed to travel to China.
In December, Phnom Penh anti-trafficking police arrested Xie Tao Sheng, 50, Hu De Hua, 35, and Zhou Yanping, 41, along with Cambodians Liv Horn, 53, and Vong Yita, 48.
Police said at the time of the arrests that the five had plans to traffic the teenagers into Thailand through the Poipet border crossing, where they would be handed off to middlemen before traveling to China.
The three Chinese nationals, two men and one woman, were charged with attempted human trafficking. Ms. Horn and her husband Mr. Yita, who did not appear in court Monday, were charged with fraudulent request for documents and released on bail.
Mr. Sheng, speaking through a translator, admitted to the court Monday that he planned to send the teenagers to China, but only to marry his friends.
“A friend in China asked for help to process the documents in order to bring the girls to get married in China,” he said.
Muong Sokun, a lawyer for Mr. Hua, said that because the teenagers had willingly agreed to go to China to meet prospective husbands, his client should not be charged with human trafficking.
“It is the right and freedom of the girls and if they go. And if they change their minds, they can come back,” Mr. Sokun said. “There is no law stating that a wedding has to be in this country.”
The men were charged under Article 16 of the anti-human trafficking law, which states that selling, buying or exchanging a person for cross-border transfer will be punished with seven to 16 years in prison.
Deputy prosecutor Soeur Vanny said the court had enough evidence to prove that the men had planned to sell the teenagers into sexual slavery once they arrived in China.
“The accused had dishonest intentions to bring Cambodian women to China for the aim of sexual exploitation,” Ms. Vanny said. “The accused used tricks to persuade the victims through promises of marriage, but, in fact, the marriages were just for taking them out [of the country].”
Presiding Judge Kor Vanndy said a verdict would be announced on June 22.