Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's government asked the country's King Norodom Sihamoni to pardon a Russian businessman convicted of sexually abusing more than a dozen girls in Cambodia, according to a prince.
Prince Sisowath Thomico told RFA in an interview Friday that the king granted an amnesty to Alexander Trofimov, who was freed on Tuesday, based on a government request.
Trofimov, who became the focus of Cambodia's largest-ever pedophilia case, had been convicted of buying sex from 17 girls between the ages of six and 13.
Anti-human trafficking groups have expressed dismay over his release, saying it would be a bad example for criminals.
“I don’t want to respond to [the] anti-human trafficking groups' comment and thought but I can comment based on the laws. The King has granted amnesty because the government has asked the King to prepare a royal decree to pardon [Alexander Trofimov]," Thomico said.
"The King can make his own decision without consulting with the government and other institutions but in the case of Alexander Trofimov, the King granted the amnesty upon the government’s request,” he said.
Thomico added that the government request was made to the King through the council of ministers.
“The ministry of justice must have requested through the council of ministers,” said Thomico, who is also the spokesman for retired King Norodom Sihanouk.
He declined to comment when asked whether the King knew that Trofimov was a sex offender.
Before his arrest in October 2007, Trofimov was chairman of a Russian-led investment group developing a Cambodian tourist island.
Trofimov led Koh Pos Investment Company, which in 2006 received permission to build a U.S. $300 million resort on Koh Pos, known also as Snake Island, off Sihanoukville in southern Cambodia.
Trofimov was originally sentenced to 17 years in jail, but his term was slashed to seven years in August 2010.
Trofimov was one of the higher profile cases in recent years in Cambodia's efforts to crack down on pedophiles.
Anti-pedophile non-governmental group Action Pour Les Enfants (Apple) country director Samleang Seila told RFA that even though Trofimov's release was "legal," it will set a bad example in Cambodia.
“We are very sad. We felt that a person who committed a serious crime against children received a very light punishment. Our reaction is the release is a weak message showing that serious offenders receive a light punishment. This punishment is not enough for what he did,” he said.
Trofimov was one of more than 300 inmates held in prisons across Cambodia who were either released or had their sentences reduced after receiving a royal pardon.
Trofimov admitted to sexually abusing 16 of the girls and apologized to his victims and the Cambodian people during a hearing last year.
He is also wanted by Russia in connection with child sex allegations in his native country, but Cambodia's Court of Appeal has rejected a request by the Russian government to extradite him, Agence France-Presse reported.
Dozens of foreigners have been jailed for child sex crimes or deported to face trial in their home countries since Cambodia launched an anti-pedophilia push in 2003 in a bid to shake off its reputation as a haven for sex predators.
Reported by Samean Yun for RFA's Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.