A couple accused of pimping six waitresses at their coffee shop admitted to collecting money from the women but denied at Monday’s trial at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court that they had been procuring prostitutes.
Pham Thi Phuong, 39, from Vietnam, and her Cambodian husband Doung Lim, 59, were arrested by anti-human trafficking police during a raid on their coffee shop in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district on September 10.
They were charged with procuring prostitution with aggravating circumstances, as two of the victims were 17 years old, said Chhan Vuth, a bureau chief in the Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking department.
Ms. Phuong testified that she knew the women were having sex for money but denied taking money they made from sex work. She said the staff merely gave her money to cover the cost of their food.
Presiding Judge Heng Sokna, however, accused Ms. Phuong, who had been previously jailed on the same charge in an unrelated case, took between $2.50 and $50 from the women each time they provided sex services to clients, whom they met at her shop and typically took to a guesthouse 500 meters away.
“Did you demand some money from them?” Judge Sokna asked.
“No, I did not demand it,” Ms. Phuong said. “They gave it to me from their hearts.”
Judge Sokna said the couple did not pay the staff who worked at their coffee shop in Boeng Tompun commune, which they had run since 2013, but gave them free accommodations.
Mr. Lim, a tuk-tuk driver, also denied demanding money from the staff but said he accepted money for rides to the guesthouse.
In testimonies read to the court, the women said they volunteered to engage in sex work.
Dun Vibol, lawyer for the couple, asked the judge to downgrade the charge against Ms. Phuong to consent for activities involving prostitution in an establishment, since the women were not forced into sex work. He said the charge against Mr. Lim should be dropped entirely.
A verdict will be announced on July 21.