Touch Ngim, a former deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department, has been charged with extorting money from brothel owners in return for releasing them from custody, Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge Kim Ravy said Monday.
Touch Ngim was suspended from work on March 23, accused of extorting money and taking bribes from brothel owners in the wake of a September 2004 police raid during which 41 sex workers were removed from a Kompong Speu establishment.
“It is right that Touch Ngim and some other officials were charged by the court’s prosecutors dealing with extortion,” Kim Ravy said.
“There are many officials beside Touch Ngim involved with this case. We are still conducting a serious investigation to find more suspects,” the judge added.
Touch Ngim could not be reached for comment on Sunday or Monday, and according to Kim Ravy he has failed to turn up for questioning at the municipal court.
Kim Ravy said Sunday that a warrant has been issued for Touch Ngim’s arrest, though he stated on Monday that he could not confirm that this was the case.
Prak Savouth, a clerk at the municipal court, said on Sunday that Touch Ngim was charged in relation to the raid and extortion scandal, along with Thong Kim Heng, an office chief at the anti-trafficking department, and Rin Saroeun, who Prak Savouth identified as a police officer at the department.
Thong Kim Heng declined comment when contacted by telephone on Sunday. Several members of the anti-trafficking community in Phnom Penh said that the government might arrest Touch Ngim to try to avoid US sanctions.
The US has asked the government to arrest five unnamed senior officials on charges of complicity in human trafficking as part of Cambodia‘s bid to avoid sanctions for its poor anti-trafficking efforts. The sanctions could be imposed by Oct 1.
Phnom Penh Police Commissioner Heng Pov said he had no information on Touch Ngim. Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak and Un Sokunthea, head of the anti-trafficking department, could not be reached for comment.
Chea Vuth, a former deputy provincial police chief for Kompong Speu province, who said he is now in the Ministry of Interior’s penal police department, was suspended along with Touch Ngim over the same case.
Contacted on Monday Chea Vuth alleged that Touch Ngim took cash bribes following the Kompong Speu raid in return for releasing the sex workers and brothel owners.
“I am very proud to cooperate with [Touch Ngim] in cracking down on brothel parlors but I am very disappointed that Touch Ngim and his officials released those sex workers and brothel owners in return for bribes,” Chea Vuth alleged in a telephone interview.
Mu Sochua, former minister of women‘s affairs and now opposition party member, welcomed the news of the charges.
“The public is encouraged by the latest raids and arrests of traffickers, but we‘d like to see more arrests of bigger fish,” Mu Sochua said.
“I think the US will also want to see a strong…investigation and monitoring of sexual exploitation at the bigger hotels that have already been identified by the NGOs in their reports,” she said.
The US Embassy said Monday that it did not yet have enough information to comment on the case.
(Additional reporting by William Shaw)