Six Vietnamese nationals were on Wednesday sent to Prey Sar prison to serve between seven and 10 years after being found guilty of procuring prostitution—including of minors—at two Phnom Penh massage parlors doubling as brothels.
A seventh man was sentenced in absentia and remains at large.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court Presiding Judge Kor Vandy on Wednesday handed down the sentences to the seven Vietnamese—six men and one woman—who had been involved in the operation of two massage parlors in Phnom Penh that were found to be selling sex on the premises.
“They were sentenced under Article 289 of the criminal code with procuring prostitution of minors with aggravating circumstances,” Judge Vandy said.
The maximum penalty under Article 289 is 15 years imprisonment.
The six who were sent to prison Wednesday were arrested in October 2013 during simultaneous raids on the two massage parlors on Sothearos Boulevard in Chamkar Mon district and Street 63 in Daun Penh district. The seventh, Sok Meng, was the lessor of both properties.
Judge Vandy issued a warrant for Mr. Meng’s arrest Wednesday.
The verdict follows a months-long investigation by the Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking department and the International Justice Mission (IJM), a child protection NGO.
In a press release Wednesday, IJM said the brothels were “run by a well-known Vietnamese trafficking and exploitation network. They openly prostituted Vietnamese young adult women and borderline minors.”
Six of the 20 females being offered for sex were found to be under the age of 18, according to IJM.
Contacted Wednesday, anti-trafficking department director Pol Phiethey, who led the raids, declared the verdict a landmark but said there was still work to be done to take down the criminal ring the Vietnamese were part of.
“In the past, we have not seen such strong sentences handed down,” Major General Phiethey said. “This is a good sign.”
But while Mr. Meng, the landlord, is named as the ringleader in the court’s documents, Maj. Gen. Phiethey said other leads were still being investigated.
“There is Mr. Sok Meng, but we are still trying to find out who is behind him,” he said.
“The [real] ringleader has many names and he continues to change [names] all the time. It is very easy to change your name in Cambodia, so it is very hard to find him.”
The six sent to prison Wednesday were Nguyen Yandong, 32; Nguyen Dinga, 26, and Le Chantha, 31, who were sentenced to 10 years; and Heng Chhay, 26; Yoeun Vikhen, 48, and Nguyen Thi Yong, 39, the woman, who received seven years.
In a separate case, Kandal provincial anti-trafficking police on Tuesday evening arrested three people —a couple and a cross-dresser—for procuring prostitution during simultaneous raids on a guesthouse and a private home in Takhmao City.
Va Sopheap, a provincial police officer who has been investigating the locations and providing information to anti-trafficking police for about four months, said Sin Sidet, 58, and Touch Vanny, 54, were arrested at their Srey Na Bopha Stung Meas guesthouse, while Hang Mao, 31, the cross-dresser, was arrested at his rental home.
Mr. Sopheap said a total of nine girls and women between the ages of 15 and 20 were rescued in the operation. Three were found at the guesthouse and six at Mr. Mao’s home, less than 1 km away, he said.
“According to the victims, they got between $15 and $25 for sleeping with each customer but the brothel owners took all the money,” Mr. Sopheap said. “The girls said the price of their body depended on their beauty.”
Mr. Sopheap said victims claimed they had not been sold into prostitution, but entered the trade for social or financial reasons.
“Some said that they were not happy with marriages their parents had arranged for them…some are poor and some are uneducated.”