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Australian to face Cambodian court over alleged artifact theft

dpa German Press Agency
Published: Tuesday October 10, 2006

Phnom Penh- An Australian tourist accused of stealing ancient Angkor-era artifacts to take out of the country will be tried in a provincial court within 24 hours, a senior court official said Tuesday. Steven Doyle, 36, of Sydney, was arrested last Friday in the northern town of Siem Reap after a cleaner allegedly found three statues believed to be genuine Angkor artifacts and weighing a total of 30 kilograms in his hotel room. Authorities said they believe Doyle intended to take the statues out of the country.

"We will decide what penalty to hand down at his trial tomorrow," Siem Reap provincial court investigating judge Eng Kimthol said by telephone. "If he has broken the law we must impose some penalty."

But he added that the court had accepted that Doyle was not a professional and that he was free on an undisclosed amount of bail until his hearing.

"We want the trial to be held quickly. He is a simple tourist. He is not an investor or a businessman," he said.

Doyle faces between six months and eight years in prison for stealing the pieces and intent to traffic them if convicted.

However the law also provides for him to be released without being jailed after paying a fine and local media on Tuesday speculated that fears a jail term for a traveler might damage Cambodia's tourism industry may result in leniency for Doyle.

The northern city of Siem Reap is the gateway to the Angkor Wat temple complex. Combating looting from the temples, most of which date back to around the 12th and 13th centuries, to feed an international artifact trade in ancient Khmer art has proved a major challenge for the Cambodian government.

Police said Doyle had initially claimed he bought the carvings from a Cambodian dealer, but later changed his story and claimed he had collected them from Angkor himself. The statues are currently with the Ministry of Culture being assessed to confirm they are genuine, how much they were worth and their true age.

Groups trying to protect Cambodian culture from looters have long called on the government to show it can get tough on smugglers and enforce the laws to their fullest extent.

Under Cambodian law Doyle could have been held for up to six months in pre-trial detention while the prosecution built a case.

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency