An Indian man who was inexplicably released by the Siem Reap Provincial Court last year following his arrest for sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl was convicted in absentia on Thursday, but authorities have made no attempt to rearrest him and his whereabouts remain unknown.
Presiding Judge Sin Sovannarath said Raj Deo, 46, was found guilty of indecent assault and ordered to pay the girl’s family 3 million riel, or about $750, in compensation. He declined to comment further, citing the “ethics of a judge.”
The Criminal Code states that indecent assault committed against a minor is punishable by two to five years in prison and a fine of 4 to 10 million riel, or about $1,000 to $2,500.
Mr. Deo, who worked as a clothing seller in Siem Reap City, was apprehended by juvenile protection police in December after they received a complaint from the teenage victim, according to anti-pedophile NGO Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE), which assisted in the investigation.
But Mr. Deo was released on bail shortly after being questioned at the provincial court, deputy prosecutor Theng Samnang said on Thursday, refusing to explain why he was released on bail and why no attempt was made to arrest him when he was subsequently charged with indecent assault.
“Upon the announcement of the sentencing, the court did not issue an arrest warrant,” he said, referring all further questions to court spokesman Yin Srang, who refused to comment.
Duong Thavary, chief of the provincial police’s anti-human trafficking bureau, said she was aware that Mr. Deo was at large, but that she could not search for or arrest him without a court-issued warrant.
APLE country director Samleang Seila decried the light sentencing and the court’s apparent apathy.
“That was an unacceptable sentencing, considering the facts and evidence collected, as well as the past reports” of abuse, Mr. Seila said. “He was roaming streets around Siem Reap and preying on vulnerable children as well—especially girls selling souvenirs to tourists.”
“We’re disappointed that he was released on bail and our [attempts] to bring him back under detention failed,” he said. “There was sufficient evidence to hold him under detention through the trial, but he was released on bail despite enough evidence.”
“At the moment, we are working with authorities to locate him,” he said, adding that if this effort was unsuccessful, APLE would seek further help from the Indian Embassy in Phnom Penh.
Mr. Deo’s lawyer, Sourng Sophea, said he did not know where his client was, but that he was innocent of all alleged crimes.
“He did not commit indecent assault against the young girl,” he said.
“I think the victim’s family filed the complaint against him because they wanted compensation.”