The trial of a South African man accused of trafficking two women to Thailand with the intent of selling them into prostitution began yesterday at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, with the defendant claiming to have been in love with one of the women.
Blake Mogamat Tape, 61, was arrested on Sept 17 at a guesthouse in Daun Penh district’s Wat Phnom commune after returning from Thailand, where he left the women, and charged with cross-border trafficking. The women, Chang Thihong, 28, and Chang Thihaw, 25, claimed in a statement read by the court clerk yesterday that they escaped as Mr Tape attempted to sell them to a Thai brothel.
“I was in love with Ms Thihong, and I didn’t have any reason to sell them,” Mr Tape told the court. “I have never committed a crime before, and I did not take them to a brothel.”
According to Mr Tape, Ms Thihong persuaded him to bring along her cousin for company when the couple left Cambodia in order to be married in South Africa. Mr Tape maintained that a day after arriving in Thailand, the women disappeared as he tried to get them South African visas, at which point he returned to Phnom Penh believing they must have already done so.
In their statement, the women told a different story, claiming that Mr Tape took them to a brothel and that while he was inside negotiating their sale they ran away and returned to Cambodia through Poipet.
“I am demanding $5,000 in compensation from the suspect,” said Choeung Thidav, Ms Thihong’s mother.
Deputy court prosecutor Hing Bunchea, said yesterday that Mr Tape’s story of losing the girls was unrealistic, because he would have known where they were staying.
“The suspect committed the offense of trafficking people across borders. I hope the court will find him guilty and punished,” said Mr Bunchea.
Presiding judge Ke Sakhorn said the court would announce the verdict on Dec 21.