March 14, 2008 / 3:33 AM / 11 years ago

Russian investor gets 13 yrs for Cambodia abuse

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - A Cambodian court sentenced a prominent Russian investor to 13 years in jail on Friday for the sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl, the latest foreigner to be caught in the country’s drive to stop child sex tourism.

Alexander Trofimov (L) is escorted out of the courtroom by Prey Sar prison's police after his trial at Phnom Penh municipal court, March 14, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

The lawyer for 41-year-old Alexander Trofimov, who signed a $300 million deal in 2006 to develop a luxury tourist resort, said the ruling would damage Cambodia’s investment reputation.

“My client is a high-profile man. He should not be sentenced by just one girl who pointed a finger at him,” lawyer Ouch Sophal told Reuters.

“The court decision will send a bad message to foreign investors,” he said, adding his client would appeal.

Chief Judge Ke Sakhan said the court had sufficient evidence to convict Trofimov, who did not speak to reporters after he was sentenced.

During the trial, the girl said she was lured by a pimp from the capital, Phnom Penh, to the coastal province of Sihanoukville, where Trofimov’s company planned to build a major tourist resort on Koh Pos, or Snake Island.

A Cambodian national was also sentenced on Friday to 11 years in jail for providing the girl.

Their convictions came a day after a German man was given 15 years in jail for sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl.

Walter Munz, 61 and from Stuttgart, was arrested at a Phnom Penh guest house last year and accused of sharing a bed with the street girl and sexually abusing her four times.

The white-haired Munz, who appeared before the court in prison overalls, denied the charge and said he had been giving her $60 a month for school fees and food.

Poverty-stricken Cambodia has long had a reputation as a haven for pedophiles, due in large part to its corrupt police force and courts. But child rights group say Phnom Penh is beginning to take the problem more seriously.

There were 17 convictions last year, up sharply from three in 2006 and six in 2004, according the rights group Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE), which has tracked cases since 2003.

“It’s becoming increasingly difficult for sex offenders to get away with these crimes,” APLE President Thierry Darnaudet told Reuters.

More than a decade ago, offenders could pay up to $20,000 to have their cases disappear, but that was happening less these days due to pressure from NGOs and foreign embassies, he said.

Groups like APLE have also helped train police in basic evidence gathering techniques, contributing to the rise in successful prosecutions.

Additional reporting and writing by Darren Schuettler; Editing by Michael Battye and David Fox

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