Ronald Boyajian, a 55-year-old American man convicted in March of repeatedly visiting Cambodia to sexually abuse young girls, was on Monday sentenced to 70 years in a U.S. federal prison in a case hailed as a success of Washington’s “Operation Twisted Traveler” initiative.
Mr. Boyajian’s mother, however, said her son was innocent and that the sentence was the result of an intergovernmental conspiracy.
The sentence, handed down by Judge Christina Snyder at court in Los Angeles, comes more than seven years after Mr. Boyajian was arrested in Phnom Penh and nearly five months after he was found guilty of abusing a 9-year-old girl in Cambodia, traveling to Cambodia with the intent of committing sex crimes and doing so while registered as a sex offender in California.
Mr. Boyajian “was sentenced today to 70 years in federal prison and $40,000 restitution to a victim,” the U.S. Justice Department announced in a statement on Monday.
“Four victims whom Boyajian had [allegedly] sexually assaulted testified against him at trial. Each girl was between 8 and 11 years old when Boyajian purchased them from their mother and grandmothers to sexually abuse them,” the statement said.
“One victim, who was approximately 8 when Boyajian assaulted her, testified at trial that ‘he was abusive, he was cruel, he treated me like I wasn’t even human.’”
In 1995, Boyajian was convicted of 22 counts of sex and oral sex with minors in his home state of California, according the Justice Department, and began traveling to Cambodia after finishing his parole.
It was during his 35th trip to Asia in February 2009 that he was arrested by Cambodian police 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.
He was returned to the U.S. several months later, but his pretrial detention stretched for years as Boyajian—who represented himself during the trial—changed lawyers numerous times, with prosecutors accusing him of filing a host of motions in order to delay proceedings.
Contacted on Tuesday, Boyajian’s Cambodian lawyer, Kong Sam Onn, decried the sentence as “unfair” and “illegal,” and said that his client’s deportation had not been justified in the first place.
“Even the charges are illegal—they are not in accordance with Cambodian law,” he said, adding that Boyajian should have been tried in Cambodia, where the crimes were committed.
“I think it’s a political stunt,” he said. U.S. government officials, he added, “are trying to prove they are against pedophilia, but they don’t care about the law. I think they want to be famous maybe.”
Mr. Sam Onn said that had Boyajian been convicted in Cambodia, “he would be out of jail by now,” given the shorter prison terms for child abuse under Cambodian law.
Boyajian’s mother, Gean Boyajian, took the lawyer’s accusations further.
“There’s a conspiracy case here; it’s going…all over the world,” she said, adding that the plot to ensnare her son was carried out by the U.S. and Cambodian governments—and masterminded by then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“The Cambodian government is corrupt, but LA is even more corrupt,” she said.
Boyajian said framing someone for child sex crimes was easy. “I can make you a pedophile in five minutes,” she said.
Samleang Seila, country director of anti-pedophile NGO Action Pour Les Enfants, which initiated the investigation into Boyajian, said the 70-year sentence was a “great example” of why foreign sex offenders should be tried in their home countries.
“I think it is 10 times higher than it would have been here,” he said, noting that the maximum penalty for purchasing child prostitution under Cambodia’s anti-human trafficking law was 15 years.
“In cases such as these…foreigners should be returned to their home country, where the justice system is more developed,” he said. “Severe sentencing is a deterrent.”
Mr. Seila added that Boyajian’s case had been filed with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court after his 2009 arrest, but that nothing had come of it, even after the California court found him guilty in March.
“We asked the judge what he had done so far with the case…. He said, ‘Nothing.’ When we asked him if he was going to do anything with it, he said, ‘no.’”
Ly Sophanna, a court spokesman for the municipal court, said he could not comment on Tuesday, but would check the court’s records for Boyajian’s case file today.
(Additional reporting by Phuon Chansereivuth)