The largest pedophile court case in Cambodia’s history is set to begin Sept 23 at the Sihanoukville Municipal Court with 41-year-old Russian businessman Alexander Trofimov standing trial for allegedly sexually abusing 18 young girls.
Trofimov, executive director of the Koh Puos Investment Group, was sentenced in March to 13 years in prison by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court after being found guilty of debauchery—under the previous anti-human trafficking law—for sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl.
Arrested in October 2007, Trofimov was originally charged with sexually abusing 18 Sihanoukville girls. Recently, however, four of the alleged victims withdrew their complaints against the Russian, said Peng Maneth, an attorney with anti-pedophile NGO Action Pour Les Enfants.
Interior Ministry Anti-Human Trafficking Department Director Bith Kimhong said Monday that Trofimov is still charged with abusing 11 girls under the age of 15 and seven girls aged between 15 and 17.
Trofimov “bought and had sex with the children—the punishment is not light,” Bith Kimhong said, adding that the businessman could face between two and 15 years in prison for each offense if he is found guilty.
Sihanoukville Municipal Court Judge Taing Sunlay said Monday that six Cambodians—parents and relatives of the victims—will also stand trial for allegedly facilitating Trofimov’s abuse of the children.
“The parents and the relatives were the ones who sold them,” said Taing Sunlay, who will preside over today’s scheduled trial.
Samleang Seila, country director for APLE, which assisted police with the investigation, said he is confident that Trofimov will be found guilty.
“The victims are very determined to testify against Trofimov,” he said by telephone Monday.
The Sihanoukville court has come under fire in recent months for its controversial decisions in several cases involving foreign pedophiles.
In July, then-US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli criticized the court’s decision to suspend the prison sentence handed down to convicted 26-year-old Russian pedophile Nikita Belov. Belov was convicted for indecent acts against children and sentenced to three years in prison July 21, but presiding Judge In Manith suspended all but six months and 15 days of Belov’s sentence, resulting in his release two days later.
“We don’t have any concerns except for what we don’t know,” Samleang Seila said of the Trofimov case. “If it is done in a proper way and fair, I don’t think there will be any concerns.”
An official with anti-pedophile NGO International Justice Mission called Trofimov’s trial a “benchmark for the Cambodian judicial system” and noted that the world will be watching.
“This is a high profile international case, and hopefully the court will do what needs to be done,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
In its annual Trafficking in Persons study, the US State Department upgraded Cambodia’s status from “Tier Two Watch List” to “Tier Two” for its efforts in combating human trafficking and sexual abuse against children.
US Embassy spokesman John Johnson said Monday by telephone that the US is following the Trofimov trial.
“We’re keeping close tabs on the case,” he said, but declined to comment further.
Trofimov’s company secured a 99-year lease to develop property on Koh Pos island off the coast of Sihanoukville in September 2006 in order to construct a $300-million holiday resort.
Officials from the Russian Embassy could not be reached for comment Monday.