No Charges Against Sex Trafficking Ring Despite Evidence

Military police probing a suspected sex trafficking ring were taken aback on Friday when the prosecutor pursuing the case decided not to charge three alleged conspirators despite a wealth of evidence against them, an official said on Monday.

An NGO investigator, meanwhile, said a high-ranking Defense Ministry official had intervened to protect the suspected ringleader from prosecution.

The case came to light last Wednesday when military police raided a villa in Phnom Penh and found 13 underage girls inside, allegedly lured from their homes in Battambang province by the promise of free training in massage and beauty therapy by a suspect intending to traffic them to Thailand for sex work.

Military police also arrested three women believed to have colluded with the owner of the house—Cambodian-Thai businesswoman Chan Malika—to traffick the girls. Sen Komon, chief of the municipal force’s anti-human trafficking bureau, said on Thursday that the girls—all between the ages of 14 and 17—told him Ms. Malika intended to “bring them for prostitution in Thailand” and had trafficked others across the border in the past.

Ms. Malika remains at large.

Contacted on Monday, Mr. Komon said he had sent the three detained women to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday and recommended a slew of charges under the anti-human trafficking law. “We sent the three suspects to court on Friday, but they were returned to us because the lawyer for the house owner presented evidence [in an attempt] to prove that they were not involved in trafficking.”

Mr. Komon said the so-called evidence included documents from the families of four of the 13 girls granting Ms. Malika permission to train them to work as masseuses and beauticians, and paperwork requesting permission to open a training center in Chroy Changva district.

He said he was taken aback by the court’s decision and was working to strengthen the case against Ms. Malika. “We are now collecting evidence to put the burden on the house owner,” he said.

Of note, Mr. Komon said, was a massage training center in Thailand’s Trat province also owned by Ms. Malika. He has previously said the woman also owned a karaoke parlor in Phnom Penh and another in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand.

Despite saying last week that Ms. Malika had committed an “obvious crime” and therefore could be arrested without a court warrant, the bureau chief said on Monday that the situation had changed.

“The case is now under the management of the court, so we are required to ask the court to issue a warrant to arrest the woman,” he said, adding that he would do so if the court decided to charge the three women in custody.

Yeth Chakrya, chief prosecutor at the municipal court, who is handling the case, could not be reached on Monday.

Samnang Maing, deputy director of investigations for the International Justice Mission (IJM), an anti-trafficking NGO that is also pursuing the case, said he did not wish to speak about the court’s decision not to charge the women because a powerful official was now involved.

“I dare not give further comment on the case because the house owner received intervention from a high-ranking official in the Defense Ministry and the court,” Mr. Maing said, declining to name the official. He said IJM would continue to investigate the case with the aim of implicating Ms. Malika.

Chhum Socheat, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, said he knew nothing about the case nor Mr. Maing’s claim.

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