Australian, 2 Cambodians sent to prison in surrogacy case

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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A Cambodian court sentenced an Australian woman and two Cambodian associates to one and a half years in prison Thursday for providing commercial surrogacy services in the country.

Cambodia banned commercial surrogacy last year after becoming a popular destination for would-be parents seeking women to give birth to their children.

Tammy Davis-Charles, who was arrested in November, appeared stunned as the judge read the guilty verdict and sentence on Thursday. Wearing orange prison clothes, she cried as she was led out of the courtroom and did not take questions from the media.

One of her associates, Samrith Chan Chakrya, who served as an interpreter for Davis-Charles, cried when she heard the verdict and said she would appeal.

The court also ordered Davis-Charles to pay 4 million riel — about $1,000 USD — in fines to the state. The Cambodian defendants were fined 2 million riel ($500 USD) each.

Davis-Charles has said in previous court appearances that she has "lost everything" since her arrest and wants to be reunited with her family in Australia, including her 5-year-old twin sons.

She has said she launched her business in Cambodia only after consulting three local lawyers who assured her the clinic was legal. The surrogates were paid $10,000 for each pregnancy, she has said.

Judge Sor Lina said there was sufficient evidence to convict the three. The judge said Davis-Charles was "aware that launching surrogacy services was illegal in Cambodia but she continued working and convincing Cambodian women to be surrogate mothers."

Developing countries are popular for surrogacy because costs are much lower than in nations such as the United States and Australia, where surrogate services are around $150,000. The surrogacy business boomed in Cambodia after it was put under tight restrictions in neighboring Thailand. There also were crackdowns in India and Nepal.

After Cambodia's crackdown, the trade has shifted to neighboring Laos.

During the trial, several Cambodian women who served as surrogates said they were not coerced.

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