The former manager of Ga Do Italian Pizza & Wine in Phnom Penh denied during her trial on Thursday that she had forced a then-19-year-old employee to work without pay and have sex with customers and a boss.
Testifying at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, the victim claimed that Liudmila Bejenari, a Moldovan national who was 26 at the time, had persuaded her to travel from the eastern European country to Cambodia in 2014 under the guise of employment.
But when she arrived in the capital her passport was seized, communication with her family was blocked and she was forced to have sex with clientele and the store’s owner, Jeffrey Akudo, the victim said.
She claimed that Mr. Akudo, whom a witness identified as an Italian native but whose whereabouts were not mentioned in court, had raped her on 10 separate occasions.
Under questioning, Ms. Bejenari—who was charged with “unlawful removal with purpose” in 2015 after anti-trafficking police raided the storefront—denied all accusations, maintaining that the employee had willingly signed a contract with her agreeing to work for one year without pay.
The first three months were as a trainee and the remaining nine months were to repay her expenses, which included airfare and the cost of preparing her passport, Ms. Bejenari said.
The charge, which pertains to removing someone from his or her place of residence for the purpose of profit-making, sexual aggression or a range of other acts, carries a sentence of seven to 15 years in prison.
When Presiding Judge Svay Tonh asked whether the victim’s parents were aware of the arrangement, Ms. Bejenari replied: “I did not know. She is mature…. In my country, a 19-year-old girl has the right to make her own decision.”
A witness, Huzeila Coluraico, 46, who worked as the restaurant’s chef for two years, corroborated Ms. Bejenari’s testimony, saying staff members were not forced to have sex and their personal freedoms had not been restricted.
Ms. Bejenari has remained in detention at Prey Sar prison since her arrest in June 2015. The verdict is expected on August 2.
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