As an Australian nurse was charged on Monday for her role in connecting surrogate mothers with childless couples, tens of pregnant Cambodian women carrying the children of other parents had been moved to Thailand, according to a surrogate who recently gave birth.
Tammy Davis-Charles, 49, founder of surrogacy agency Fertility Solutions PGD, was arrested on Friday by anti-human trafficking police in Phnom Penh who had spent 10 months investigating her business of matching foreign couples with Cambodian women.
Cambodian nationals Penh Rithy, 28, a Commerce Ministry officer, and nurse Samrithchan Chariya, 35, were also arrested.
Mr. Rithy and Ms. Chariya appeared at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for a second day of questioning on Monday before being provisionally charged by deputy prosecutor Seng Heang with fraudulently requesting documents and acting as an intermediary between an adoptive parent and a pregnant woman, court spokesman Y Rin said.
Ms. Davis-Charles was provisionally charged in absentia with the same crimes after spending Sunday night at the Royal Phnom Penh Hospital’s intensive care unit in a room guarded by anti-human trafficking officers after she complained of a headache and vomiting.
Court officials said they would question the three suspects further today.
Contacted on Monday, one Cambodian surrogate mother, due to give birth next month and interviewed on condition of anonymity, said in hushed tones that she was not aware of the ban.
“I haven’t heard. I don’t know anything. I don’t know,” she said, before her broker took the telephone from her to say that they were being monitored by the police.
“The police are investigating us. They’re following us,” he said. “Our country is not like your country. The law in our country is not like your law. When the ministry or the government gives out a law, they can do as they want to us.”
Another woman, who gave birth by caesarian section last month and has since returned to her home in Prey Veng province, said the company who had arranged her surrogacy had moved its other pregnant mothers to Thailand to deliver babies without the scrutiny of Cambodian officials.
“The company made the women passports so they could go to Thailand. They’re staying there. I already gave birth, so I’m not so worried about the law,” she said. “There have been four or five who have come back from Thailand after giving birth.”
The head of the surrogacy provider that contracted both women, who asked not to be named out of concern his company would be targeted by authorities, said he had temporarily taken surrogates to Thailand so they could receive specialist checkups.
“We have more professional resources in place here. Nothing nefarious took place,” he said in an email.
Ms. Davis-Charles had little to say on Monday afternoon after she was pushed in a wheelchair and without handcuffs from the hospital’s rear entrance to a waiting police car and taken to the anti-human trafficking police headquarters.
“The Australian Embassy is handling it,” she said while being led into the building, declining to comment further.
Police said doctors had told its officers that they suspected she was feigning her illness, as they had not found any medical problems.
A spokesperson from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was providing consular assistance to an Australian woman arrested in Cambodia, but declined to comment further.
Since her arrest, dozens of messages of support have been posted to a Facebook account belonging to her husband, Simon Davis.
Responding to one message on Monday, Mr. Davis said authorities were “going after the wrong people.”
The charges against Ms. Davis-Charles and her associates are punishable by a combined maximum of two years and six months imprisonment and a fine of 5 million riel, or about $1,250.
The case is the first of its kind and a sign that authorities are enforcing a ban on surrogate pregnancies announced by Health Minister Mam Bunheng last month while the government drafts a law regulating the practice.
It remained unclear why anti-human trafficking police had chosen to investigate Ms. Davis-Charles, as an estimated 50 surrogacy providers are estimated to have been operating in Cambodia before the ban.
However, Keo Thea, chief of the anti-human trafficking bureau, said investigators had concluded Ms. Davis-Charles had violated the law after researching her website and investigating her company.
© 2016, Sonia Kohlbacher. All rights reserved.