Prime Minister Hun Sen has issued a directive to the Council of Ministers to renew an investigation of the Asian Orphans Association, the Minister of Women’s Affairs said Thursday.
On Sept 3, a raid conducted by police, Interior Ministry officials and the NGO Licadho resulted in the arrest of four AOA workers in Tuol Kok district under suspicion that they might be trafficking children for illegal adoptions, but released the suspects a day later.
“The Ministry of Interior will have to continue the investigation and the Ministry of Justice will have to continue the investigation because there are suspicious elements in the first report from police,” Minister of Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua said.
Ten infants and two children were taken in the raid. They are being cared for by a local human rights group.
One of Hun Sen’s directives stipulates that the children remain in the group’s care during the investigations.
Police were alerted to the Tuol Kok case when a mother named Deonj Cheap said the AOA refused to return her children after taking them for medical testing.
AOA officials told the municipal court that Deonj Cheap is HIV-positive and wanted the agency to put the children up for adoption. Officials said they gave her $150 because they felt sorry for her.
The decision to release the AOA workers has come under fire in recent days.
“[The four suspects] bought the babies, which is even worse than buying children” said Ten Borany, head of the Interior Ministry’s anti-trafficking unit.
“This is against the law. I don’t understand why the prosecutor released them,” Ten Borany, said.
“I don’t think a sufficient investigation was made by the court. That’s why I wrote a letter to the prime minister,” Mu Sochua said.
Ten Borany said he has not received an order from Hun Sen or the Council of Ministers to open an investigation of the AOA.
AOA attorney Chhun Boravuth said Thursday the orphanage is a humanitarian organization.
“We have cooperation from the Ministry of Social Affairs,” Chhun Boravuth said.
AOA Director “Puth Serey and the four babysitters are innocent, because the prosecutor hasn’t charged them yet,” he said. “If the result of the case is that my client is innocent, then I will sue Licadho.”
When asked about AOA’s ties to US adoption agencies as published on the Internet, he said, “Licadho made that up.”