A Cambodian-American who returned to the country after being charged with felony sexual abuse in the U.S. was charged on Monday for allegedly sexually abusing 11 boys in Takeo province, police and an anti-pedophile NGO said.
Tan Saravuth, who holds dual U.S. and Cambodian citizenship, was charged with procurement with regard to child prostitution by the Takeo Provincial Court, said Lim Sokhorn, deputy head of court administration. He faces seven to 15 years in prison.
“He confessed to touching the boys’ genitals,” said Suth Bunthorn, director of the provincial anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection bureau.
The family of one of the boys filed a complaint with local police in December, Mr. Bunthorn said. The suspect was able to elude authorities by traveling to Thailand and Battambang province between then and the time of his arrest, he added.
Mr. Saravuth was arrested on Friday in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district, according to officials and a statement released on Monday by the NGO Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE). He had been under police investigation for alleged child sexual abuse and exploitation since the middle of last year, the NGO said.
Eleven boys aged 10 to 15 years old were identified and “rescued,” the statement said. The victims were all from Takeo’s Tram Kak district, where Mr. Saravuth had been residing. APLE’s statement said that Mr. Saravuth had returned to Cambodia in 1997 and had been living in the province since about 2002, where he started to groom local children, according to police.
Mr. Saravuth “built trust within the community and started grooming various families…by lending them money…before ultimately taking these community boys to his residence in a pagoda,” the statement said.
According to APLE, his method reflected the shifting nature of sexual predators’ grooming.
“Most potential perpetrators target poor [communities] where knowledge of sexual abuse and exploitation remains limited” and institutions like child care NGOs, schools and homestays provide direct access to children, the statement said.
Mr. Saravuth told police “he was arrested in the US for molesting underage boys and put in jail for one month,” the statement added.
Khoem Vando, APLE’s program director, said Mr. Saravuth’s Cambodian ID card lists his date of birth as January 3, 1970, making him 47, while his U.S. passport says he was born on January 1, 1960.
According to a CourtRecords.org listing with Mr. Saravuth’s name and 1960 birthdate, he has faced three charges related to sexual abuse in the U.S. state of Oregon.
He is being provisionally detained at the provincial prison while awaiting trial, said provincial court spokesman Phan Sopheak.
His alleged Cambodian victims would receive psychological counseling from APLE, Mr. Vando said.
“We’ve been supporting a number of children,” he said. “Our social team will continue to support…these children, especially their emotional well-being.”
(Additional reporting by Matt Surrusco)
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated that Mr. Saravuth had been convicted of child abuse in the U.S.