A 53-year-old Swiss resident of Siem Reap was charged by provincial authorities Thursday morning with “acts of debauchery” after he was arrested early Wednesday for allegedly having sex with underage boys, according to provincial prosecutor So Vat.
Police entered the home of restaurant and tourism center owner Rudolf E Knuchel at about 12:30 am Wednesday morning after hearing a 14-year-old boy scream for help outside of Knuchel’s home, claimed So Vat.
According to So Vat and a senior provincial criminal police official, Lon Deka, police then found Knuchel and an 18-year-old boy without their clothes on.
“Knuchel pulled a krama over his body to cover himself and then rushed over to close down his computer,” So Vat maintained.
So Vat said Knuchel—one of Siem Reap’s most prominent expatriates who managed the colonial-era Grand Hotel of Angkor in the early 1990s—has denied having sex with the boys.
Police have since confiscated two computers from Knuchel’s home to search computer files for evidence of the sale of child pornography photos on the Internet, according to So Vat.
Chanthol Oung, executive director of the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, said her organization and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs are attempting to find a computer expert who would help police search the computers for evidence.
Chanthol Oung said her organization began investigating Knuchel in November after receiving a tip from Terre Des Hommeo, a German anti-child abuse group.
Three investigators from the crisis center made five trips to Siem Reap to monitor Knuchel and interview six underage boys who claimed they had had sex with the suspect, she said.
Chanthol Oung said the crisis center turned over evidence to police and introduced them to alleged victims. However, they were frustrated when they did not arrest Knuchel, whom she claimed has high-ranking friends among local police officials.
It was only when the Minister of Women’s Affairs, Mu Sochua, called the provincial governor and a police official that police acted, according to Chanthol Oung.
“There was no reason for them to arrest Rudolf….He was arrested because of the pressure from the minister,” she said.
Lon Deka said police have suspected for more than a year that Knuchel was having sex with underage boys. He added that one boy and a child activist have made complaints to police, but police did not have “obvious evidence” until Wednesday.
One Phnom Penh-based tour operator, who asked to remain anonymous, said Knuchel has lived in Siem Reap for about seven or eight years. The tour operator described Knuchel as a “sociable” person.
“He’s a nice person to talk to…. I know he runs a restaurant. And from time to time, he arranges tours [to the Angkor monuments],” the tour operator said.
Tep Vatho, bureau chief of Apsara Authority in Siem Reap, said westerners often go to buy newspapers, make phone calls and send e-mail at Knuchel’s Swiss Center.
When Knuchel was asked by police about the 18-year-old boy found naked in his home, he said boys often visited him and used his home only to sleep and take a bath, according to So Vat.
“I have sent this case to the investigating judge for further investigation….There are differing answers from the suspect and from [alleged] victims,” So Vat said.
Under Article 8 of the law on human trafficking and prostitution, passed by the National Assembly in early 1996, anyone convicted of “acts of debauchery” with a minor—even if they are consensual—faces a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years.
“I’m afraid he’ll be released. I hope he will stay in jail because then foreign tourists won’t feel free to come to Cambodia to use children,” said Chanthol Oung.
(Additional reporting by Kevin Doyle)