Surrogacy ‘Mastermind’ Appeals Sentence

2 min read
Police arrested 11 surrogate mothers in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district on November 8, 2018. (National Police)

A Chinese national serving a seven-year sentence for organizing illegal surrogacy argued on Monday that he was just staying at a friend’s house and didn’t know why there were dozens of pregnant women there.

Liu Qiang was arrested in 2018 after an anti-human trafficking police raid found 33 women who were paid to have children for Chinese families.

Liu was described at the time as “the alleged mastermind of the surrogacy ring,” but he denied the accusation at the Appeal Court on Monday.

Under questioning, Liu said he was only staying at a friend’s house for two months, working as a guide for tourists and looking for business opportunities in electronics.

The friend, whom he identified as Chen Hao Ming, 42, was away at the time, Liu said.

He did not pay much attention to those living in his house and another house next-door, though he noticed some pregnant women around, he said. He did not speak Khmer so didn’t understand the situation, he said.

“I also doubted why in the house there were only women,” he said.

Liu added that he had driven some of the women two or three times, but he had stayed in the car and did not realize at the time that he had taken them to a hospital.

“I didn’t participate in it,” he said. “He asked me to help take them … when they needed help. … He was a very good friend so I needed to help.”

Presiding judge Yon Narong was skeptical of Liu’s claims.

“He took the women to the hospital, so he must know that the house had kept surrogate women … so he must know about this,” Narong said.

Cambodia saw a rise in surrogacy operations about five to six years ago when neighboring countries, especially Thailand, banned the practice. Cambodian authorities followed by banning commercial surrogacy in 2016, along with other fertility services like commercial sperm donations, though they have yet to pass a drafted law on the issue. Authorities have equated the practice with human trafficking and violating the rights of children.

An Australian nurse, Tammy Davis-Charles, was the first to be arrested for surrogacy and was sentenced in 2017 to 18 months jail for her role as the founder of a surrogacy agency. More than 60 surrogate mothers were also arrested in 2018 and 2019.

On Tuesday, Thai Pheap, who was arrested alongside Liu in 2018, asked for a reduction to her five-year sentence, saying she was just helping her sister out with the operation and didn’t know it was a crime.

“I was not aware that this was illegal, and I just came to help her,” she said.

The Appeal Court said Liu and Pheap were both 54, though this does not match ages given by police at the time of their arrests.

A judgement is expected on November 16.

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