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Cambodian court fines Australian over purchase of artifacts

dpa German Press Agency
Published: Wednesday October 11, 2006

Phnom Penh- A Cambodian court found an Australian man guilty of illegally possessing historic statues but ruled not to jail him, instead fining him nearly 1,000 dollars and setting him free with a warning, court officials and his lawyer said Wednesday. Investigating judge Eng Kimthol said the provincial court in Siem Reap, the gateway to the Angkor Wat temple complex, had looked into the case and decided not to throw the full weight of the law at Steven Doyle, 36, of Sydney because he was a tourist and it believed he had made an honest mistake when he purchased three 12th- and 13th-century statues and was ignorant of both the law and the true value of the pieces.

He said the case was originally scheduled to be heard Wednesday, but the court had finished investigations late Tuesday and handed down its verdict then.

Doyle was arrested Friday after a cleaner found the statues in his hotel room and tipped off police.

"The court understood that if he had meant to traffic in the statues, he would not have left them on display in his hotel room; he would have hidden them thoroughly," said Doyle's attorney, Lyveng Heng.

Heng said he was unaware of whether Doyle remained in Cambodia.

Doyle had faced six months to eight years in prison on charges of stealing the artifacts and intending to traffic them, chief prosecutor So Vat said. It remained unclear how Doyle had come by the statues, which weighed a total of 30 kilograms and were confiscated by the court.

Local media speculated that Doyle might have been shown leniency because of fears that jailing a tourist might harm Cambodia's tourism industry.

Director general of the Tourism Ministry, Soum Sarouth, said he hoped the case would serve as a warning to others that trading in Cambodia's heritage was illegal.

Cambodia has faced an uphill battle in stemming the illegal trade in its artifacts, thousands of pieces of which have already ended up being traded on the lucrative international market. Conservation groups have urged the government to get tough on smugglers to signal that trading in its ancient art is not acceptable.

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency