Police in Siem Reap City have arrested a South Korean pastor accused of sexually abusing eight girls on multiple occasions over the past several years and buying them and their families off with gifts of rice, cash and motorbikes.
Park Youl, 62, was arrested on Wednesday morning after being called in for questioning based on a tip, Siem Reap province’s anti-human trafficking police chief Duong Thavry said on Thursday. She said one of the victims talked to police because she was angry that the pastor had refused to give her a motorbike like some of the others.
“She said the pastor had persuaded her to have sex with him many times,” Ms. Thavry said. “We invited the suspect to come in for questioning…and bring the children who were living with him at the church. That’s when the crime was revealed.”
The police chief said eight female victims had been identified so far, including six who were living with the pastor at the Christian church, which she said had no name. She said Mr. Park began abusing each of them at least five years ago, and that they were now between the ages of 13 and 21.
“The suspect admitted to raping some of the girls and giving them some things, like bicycles, money for school and so on,” she said.
Ms. Thavry said the pastor was questioned by the Siem Reap Provincial Court on Thursday but had not yet been charged. She declined to discuss the nature or extent of the alleged sexual abuse, but said she was surprised it had been going on for so long.
“The victims did not think it was a kind of sexual abuse. They thought they loved the pastor and they did not think of complaining,” she said. “Also, the pastor always gave their families things. They were from poor families.”
Ms. Thavry said six of the girls and women had been placed in the care of the provincial social affairs department and two had been sent home.
She said police were still investigating and found no evidence of sexual abuse at a second church Mr. Park ran in Prasat Bakorng district.
In a statement released on Thursday, child protection NGO Action Pour Les Enfants took credit for the arrest. It said it had been investigating the church since it was tipped off to the allegations in February last year and had reported them to local police. It said there were at least nine victims between the ages of 11 and 16.
Ms. Thavry insisted they were between 13 and 21 and said that one of the nine cited by the NGO was not a victim.