The Interior Ministry distanced itself on Thursday from the disappearance of a US national charged with child sex abuse, saying police are not in a position to re-arrest Terry Darrell Smith unless the courts issue an arrest warrant.
The statement by ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak came a day after Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana rejected responsibility for Smith’s release from prison and disappearance, saying the case was now a matter for the police.
“We have never objected to any arrest warrant from the courts,” Khieu Sopheak said, adding that the ministry takes allegations of child abuse seriously and that he was troubled by the case although he was unaware of its specifics.
“We are concerned for the social order of the country. Cambodia has just been promoted to Tier 2 from Tier 3,” he said, referring to Cambodia’s recently improved ranking on the US State Department’s global human-trafficking watchdog list.
Sihanoukville Municipal Court released Smith, 54, and his Cambodian girlfriend Chea Sovannary, 26, Aug 31, one month after charging them with debauchery.
The police, court officials and anti-pedophile NGO International Justice Mission have accused Smith of having sex with two girls aged 13 and 14 at his Sihanoukville bar, Tramp’s palace, and filming the abuse.
Ang Vong Vathana said Wednesday that the Sihanoukville Court had told him that Smith’s release was intended to be temporary.
Smith’s lawyer Khieu Sambo said that he knew where Smith is and reiterated that his client was innocent.
“I know where he is,” he said. “He will go to the Sihanoukville court soon, I cannot say when.”
He added that Smith has been visiting several hospitals in Phnom Penh for his 1970s head injury, but was residing elsewhere. He declined to name the hospitals.
IJM, which has worked closely with police on the case, said it had been informed that National Police Commissioner Hok Lundy had signed a letter ordering Smith’s detention.
Hok Lundy could not be reached for comment, though Khieu Sopheak said he was unaware of the order.