Italian national Alain Fillipe Berruti was in high spirits Tuesday, despite the fact that he had been convicted of debauchery and sentenced to 10 years in a Cambodian prison.
Berruti’s conviction sets a new precedent, as no foreign national had previously received such a stiff sentence for sex crimes.
The court “has evidence to prove that Alain Fillipe Berruti had debaucherous relations, so he must be punished,” said Phnom Penh Municipal Court Chief Judge Nop Sophon. “The law states that whoever violates a child under 18 years old, whether the child agrees or not, will be sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison.”
Berruti, 30, an electrician from Milan, Italy, was arrested in June 2001 shortly after he arrived in Phnom Penh for a vacation.
He was spotted, naked, on the banks of the Tonle Sap with four boys, aged 10 to 13, and was promptly arrested by the Ministry of Interior’s anti-sex crime unit.
Berruti admitted to having sexual relations with the boys, but said that he did not have anal sex with them and claimed that the boys had solicited his business.
At an impromptu post-trial press conference Berruti was unapologetic. “I don’t destroy the life of nobody, why does somebody want to destroy my life?” he asked. “I just make erotic experience, but I don’t make child abuse.”
The boys lived on the street, he continued, saying “they are prostitutes, they always work this business and they will continue this life. Why do I not have the right to continue my life the same as before?”
The accused “had anal sex with the boys and was arrested by competent officials. He was arrested with the four boys present, while he was naked,” said the judge. “This will affect the physicality and morality of the boys.”
Berruti disagreed: “I absolutely don’t believe that the boys have moral or mental problems. By the law I am not innocent,” he said. “But there is no real justice.” He also denied having sex with the boys for fear of sexually transmitted diseases.
Berruti was also ordered to pay a total of $1,000 to his victims’ families and will be forced to leave Cambodia after he has served his prison sentence.
At his trial on July 5, Berruti requested that the judge give him a lenient sentence in exchange for paying the victims’ families. At the trial, the families requested that Berruti pay them each between $2,000 and $3,000.
“I agree to pay compensation,” he said during the earlier trial. “But the court must pardon me and allow me to stay in Cambodia. If not, I will not pay a single cent.”
Berruti said he will appeal Tuesday’s decision immediately.
One court official, who asked to remain anonymous, thought the court was too lenient in its sentencing. “This was only the minimum sentence—there should have been a stronger punishment. I think the judge pardoned this defendant a little bit because he said these boys have done this before…even if it was consensual, there should be no pardon,” the official said.
Two foreigners still have debauchery trials pending. However, the court official did not see Berruti’s conviction as having any effect on those decisions.
Another Italian national, Luigi Falchi, was arrested Nov 26 after being accused of sexually molesting three young boys in a Poipet guesthouse. He is awaiting trial Aug 1 in Banteay Meanchey prison, where he has been held longer than the maximum six-month pre-trial detention period.
French national Pierre Guynot will be tried July 26 in Sihanoukville.
Guynot, who is the owner of Obye Karting in Sihanoukville’s Mittapheap district, was arrested on May 2001 and accused of illegal confinement, sexual abuse and illegal weapons possession. He served six months in prison before he was tried on Nov 30. He was released pending the gathering of more evidence. A new trial was to have been held within two months.
At least one observer thought the Berruti conviction set a new precedent.
“We are very pleased that the court convicted the accused based on the evidence provided in order to protect the interests of the child victims,” said Naly Pilorge, deputy director of the human rights group Licadho.
Before Tuesday’s verdict, Briton Jon Keeler was the only foreigner serving time for a debauchery conviction. Keeler was arrested for making indecent videotapes of young girls in 2000. He is currently serving out a three-year prison term.
Cambodia’s weak judiciary and police force have made it an attractive destination for pedophiles. “In my country I never meet this kind of opportunity with this kind of super-available boys. I just try to get satisfaction, I tried to taste again my youth, just for sport,” Berruti said.
(Additional reporting by Seth Meixner)