The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has charged a senior Justice Ministry official with allegedly forging legal documents in an attempt to have convicted Russian pedophile Alexander Trofimov released under the pretense of extradition to Russia, officials said Tuesday.
The extradition request stems from earlier child sex crimes allegedly committed by the Russian businessman in Moscow under his real name Stanislav Molodyakov, according to the Justice Ministry and Interpol, where he is on the international police body’s “red notice” wanted listed.
Trofimov was arrested in 2007 in Sihanoukville, and charged with sexually abusing 17 young girls in Phnom Penh and Preah Sihanouk province. He is serving a 17-year prison term at the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Prison after being found guilty by both the Phnom Penh and Preah Sihanouk courts.
At the time of his arrest, Trofimov was executive director of Koh Puos Investment Group, which signed a 99-year lease with the government in September 2006 for an island off the coast where the firm plans to build a $300 million shopping and tourist resort.
Muong Khim, deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s Central Judicial Police Department, said Tuesday that the court ordered Prum Piseth, director of administration at the Ministry of Justice, detained in police custody on Saturday on charges of forging documents to have Trofimov released from prison and extradited to Russia.
Mr Khim said that police brought Mr Piseth to PJ prison on Sunday morning.
“He is already detained, while the case is still in the investigation process, as a judiciary police officer, I can’t say anything,” Mr Khim said.
“Normally, during the investigating process, no one is guilty,” he added.
According to copies obtained Tuesday of some of the documents that Mr Piseth allegedly forged, the Justice Ministry administrator wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen officially on behalf of Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana on November 16, 2008, recommending that the premier delay Mr Trofimov’s extradition to Russia.
A senior Justice Ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, claimed on Tuesday that Mr Piseth was arrested for allegedly forging Prime Minister Hun Sen’s signature in a faked response to the justice minister, which stated that Trofimov could be extradited. The prime minister, however, reportedly actually responded with a conditional agreement to extradite Trofimov so that he could stand trial in Moscow, but only if the Russian government promised to return Trofimov to serve the remainder of his jail time in Cambodia.
According to the Justice Ministry documents, Trofimov is wanted in Russia under the name Molodyakov for allegedly abusing three young children.
According to the same documents, Mr Piseth is also alleged to have faked four other letters approving the extradition to Russia, including one under the name of the Justice Minister, Mr Vong Vathana, with another forged signature from the prime minister agreeing to the extradition, which was sent to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. A copy of that letter could not be obtained Tuesday.
Other documents obtained include a “letter of money acceptance” written by hand in Khmer, which alleges that Mr Piseth and a woman, Keo Valy, who states in the document that she is Trofimov’s representative, had received $140,000 from a Russian national. All three had signed the receipt for the money, dated Nov 8, 2008, according to the ministry
In another letter signed by Mr Piseth on Nov 24, 2008, $110,000 was given by Ms Valy to Mr Piseth “to manage solving the case in accordance to the legal procedure.”
In a third “letter of money acceptance,” Ms Valy, is said to have received $15,000 from Mr Piseth on April 2009. There is no explanation for the return of the money.
The Koh Puos Investment Group, Trofimov’s former company, did not respond to e-mails asking for comment Tuesday and a man identifying himself as the assistant to the chairman of the company’s board of directors, Alexander Kiryushin, refused to put reporters in contact with Mr Kiryushin, saying he was too busy.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court Deputy Prosecutor Sok Roeun, who is working on the case, said he was too busy to comment Monday, while on Tuesday he hung up on a reporter who called him.
Bunyay Narin, a deputy cabinet chief at the Justice Ministry, on Monday referred questions about the case to Secretary of State Prom Sedhra as he was conducting the investigation into the forged documents related to the Trofimov case. Mr Sedhra, however, declined to comment on Monday.
On Tuesday, Mr Narin, who answered Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana’s phone, referred questions about the case to Undersecretary of State Ith Rady and the court.
“Because there was a complaint, we made a lawsuit to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Regarding any questions, ask the court,” Mr Narin said in response to questions about the details of the forged documents.
Justice Undersecretary of State Ith Rady declined to comment on Mr Piseth’s arrest, but confirmed Tuesday that a Russian prosecutor general had requested the extradition of Trofimov for crimes there, though he could not recall the date of the request.
Mr Rady said that Cambodia doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Russia, and Trofimov, therefore, cannot be sent back. However, he added that Cambodia’s criminal procedure allows convicted prisoners to be tried for crimes in Russia, after which they should be sent back to serve outstanding sentences in Cambodia.
“They requested the extradition for a long time for crimes in Russia but the requirements were not met,” Mr Rady said. “The condition is that the Russian authorities, when the trials are finished, send the charged person back to Cambodia,” he said.
Mr Piseth’s lawyer Uch Sophal declined to comment Tuesday because he did not have a copy of the case dossier yet.
Preah Sihanouk Provincial Prosecutor Bou Bun Hang said Tuesday evening that he didn’t know anything about the case.
However, the prosecutor revealed another supposed breach of procedures concerning the Trofimov case when he said that Preah Sihanouk provincial prison director Heng Huon had on many occasions allowed the convicted pedophile to leave the prison.
“I monitored the prison last month [and] he [Trofimov] had left the prison. I have already reported the incident to the Justice Minister and the Interior Ministry,” the prosecutor said.
“I don’t know what measure has been taken against the prison director,” he added.
“I know that Sascha has left the prison with the prison director’s approval,” he said, using Trofimov’s nickname.
Interior Ministry Spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said on Tuesday that “the Ministry had received his [the prosecutor’s] information and we will investigate the case.”
Prison director Mr Huon could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Peng Maneth, a lawyer at anti-pedophile NGO Action Pour Les Enfants, said the mothers of some of Trofimov’s victims had also witnessed the prisoner overseeing one of his Koh Puos projects at Hawaii Beach in Preah Sihanouk province.
“It has an impact on the victims, as their mothers have seen Sascha many times outside the prison. It’s like he is not punished,” she said.
“He is not a prisoner, he seems to have special rights, unlike others,” Ms Maneth said.
The Russian Embassy declined to comment on the Trofimov case, saying the trial was a matter for the Cambodian judiciary.
(Additional reporting by Paul Vrieze)