Seven years after Ronald Boyajian was arrested in Phnom Penh’s notorious Svay Pak commune on suspicion of paying for sex with young girls, a jury in Los Angeles on Monday found him guilty as charged.
Mr. Boyajian, 55, was returned to the U.S. in August 2009, seven months after his arrest as part of “Operation Twisted Traveler,” an initiative launched by the U.S. government the same year to identify and apprehend Americans engaging in child sex tourism in Cambodia.
David Herzog, the U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case, said Monday’s verdict was proof of the initiative’s success, according to a report in the Orange County Register.
“[I]f you are an American and you hurt a child—no matter where it takes place in the world—you will be prosecuted,” Mr. Herzog said outside the U.S. district court where the case was heard. “All children must be protected from sexual predators—and today’s verdicts confirm that.”
Mr. Boyajian, who had lived on and off in Cambodia for a decade before his arrest, was charged with three crimes: paying for sex with a child, travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual acts and committing a felony involving a minor while being required to register as a sex offender. In 1994, he was convicted of having sex with a minor in California.
He faces up to 30 years in prison, with sentencing tentatively set for June, according to the Register.
Mr. Boyajian, who represented himself during the trial, went through numerous lawyers during his seven years in pre-trial detention, with prosecutors accusing him of filing a host of motions in order to delay proceedings. When his trial date was set in August 2013, the public defender representing him said there were more than 100,000 pages of documents to be reviewed, according to a Los Angeles Daily News report.
The initial investigation into Mr. Boyajian was headed by local child protection NGO Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE), which said after his arrest that he had been “buying and having sex with about 10 underage girls” between the ages of 8 and 13. The trial ultimately dealt with one victim, who testified that she was paid to give oral sex to the defendant.
APLE sent two investigators to testify in the trial, according to the organization’s country director, Samleang Seila.
“They told the court in the U.S. about what they heard from the victims and the testimony the victims gave to Cambodian police,” Mr. Seila said Tuesday, adding that the group also submitted circumstantial evidence.
“Information about a situation in which Boyajian came into contact with underage girls suspiciously and we saw him visiting Svay Pak and we knew from some sources that he was going to Svay Pak for young girls,” he said.
Kong Sam Onn, an attorney representing Mr. Boyajian in Cambodia, declined to comment on the verdict.
On Sunday, however, Mr. Sam Onn said the presiding judge in the case, Christina Snyder, had effectively blocked all witnesses called by the defense, making it impossible for Mr. Boyajian to properly defend himself.
“If the court reviewed all witnesses from Boyajian’s side, they will know there is no evidence against Boyajian,” he said, adding that witnesses had either had their visa applications rejected by the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh, or their requests to take part in the trial denied by Judge Snyder.
“There is only a girl who was 9 years old at the time of the charge being a witness against Boyajian, and she said she used to have oral sex one time with Boyajian but it is not clear—the evidence is very weak,” Mr. Sam Onn said.
Judge Snyder’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Sam Onn also said he had filed a criminal complaint with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court last month accusing four people involved in investigating the case of obstructing law enforcement.
He named the individuals as Keo Thea, chief of the municipal anti-human trafficking police, Mr. Seila, the APLE director, Jonathan Ruiz, a special agent working for the U.S.’ immigration agency, and Mr. Herzog, the assistant prosecutor in the case.
“I think it is more about conspiracy…the two governments trying to crack down on what you call human trafficking,” Mr. Sam Onn said, explaining that he believed the four had worked together to ensure that the case moved to conviction at the expense of due process.
“They [the U.S. government] use money to fund NGOs in Cambodia and the Cambodian government, too. So that’s part of the mission—they want to show that the U.S. government is doing a good job on human trafficking,” he said. “So this is like a political show.”
Mr. Seila denied wrongdoing. Mr. Thea declined to comment. Others named in the complaint could not be reached.
One defense witness who did make it into the California courtroom, but was dismissed shortly after his questioning began, was Keo Sary, who served as a translator for the victim during the trial of a Cambodian man convicted for conspiring with Mr. Boyajian.
In an interview on Sunday, Mr. Sary said Mr. Boyajian was a familiar face in Svay Pak—a commune on the outskirts of Phnom Penh once infamous for its brothels selling the services of girls and young women—but was not there to buy sex.
“I don’t think he was guilty; he was a good person,” he said, explaining that the victim’s mother had told him that Mr. Boyajian never bought oral sex from her daughter and had admitted to instructing her daughter to give false testimony saying he had.
“He used to go to Svay Pak to drink Khmer white wine or sit and have a chat with young Cambodians between 32 and 40 years old,” he said. “I talked to some Vietnamese people, they said he went there because he wanted to eat fresh fish, cheap food, or give candy to kids.”