Cambodia’s reputation as a haven for unsavory types has again received an unwanted boost, this time by the arrest of Tammy Davis-Charles, a 49-year-old nurse from Melbourne who stood to make a lot of money after opening a surrogacy business in Phnom Penh.
Authorities formally declared the practice illegal in October but for 10 months have been investigating Davis-Charles, who moved to Cambodia after commercial surrogacy was banned in Thailand, India, and Nepal, and began targeting the LGBT market in her home country.
Financial incentives were great for the mother of six, who police say was involved in falsifying Cambodian birth certificates before when she was arrested on charges under Cambodia’s penal code relating to engaging in commercial surrogacy through Fertility Solutions PGD, a company she had originally founded in Bangkok.
The company promised Cambodian women recruited in poor villages $400 a month during their pregnancies, with the remainder of a total of $10,000 to be paid to them when the babies left the country with their biological parents, most of them same-sex partners from Australia.
Davis-Charles billed the biological parents $50,000 per baby, police say, leaving a tidy sum for herself after engaging at least 25 surrogates.
Tragically, women were forced to give birth through caesarean section, at the insistence of staff of Fertility Solutions – despite the objections of biological mothers, who in many cases had previously given birth to babies naturally.
“I was terrified and had been panicking. I pleaded to be allowed to have the birth naturally, but they said it was a requirement,” Hour Vanny, a 35-year-old surrogate mother, told Fairfax Media in Australia.
“When I heard the cry I looked down to see the baby, but they immediately took her away from me. I didn’t even get to see her face.”
Hour Vanny said she couldn’t feel the caesarean section, but she knew the baby had arrived when she heard a cry.
The baby was taken to a 27-year-old Ghana-born Australian, Charles Artman, in a ward in a Phnom Penh clinic. He had paid $50,000 to take the baby out of Cambodia on an Australian passport. Perhaps six babies have been born so far. Others are falling due.
Fertility Solutions PGD promoted surrogacy with slogans like “Dreams Do Come True” and lines like “this is the most rewarding and fulfilling job I could hope for, I’m once again blessed.”
The company also claims a 90 percent success rate.
Australian authorities had repeatedly warned that surrogacy in Cambodia was illegal, but this country has a history of attracting dubious Westerners.
Among them are bikie gangs who say they launder money here through casinos, drug addicts, pedophiles, and child sex offenders like the 1970s glam rock star Gary Glitter, and an assortment of other shady characters. Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, famed co-founder of the file-sharing website The Pirate Bay, went into hiding here from a Swedish arrest warrant before he was deported in 2012.
Even former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra found Cambodia a convenient place to cool his heels after he fled his country amid allegations of corruption.
Thailand also found itself under the glare of the international spotlight two years ago when the Baby Gammy scandal erupted involving twins. One was rejected by the Australian couple after he was born with Down syndrome.
Thai laws were subsequently changed and only heterosexual married couples deemed medically infertile can apply to have a child through gestational surrogacy. The surrogate must be a blood relative.
In Cambodia, the chief of the Anti-Human Trafficking Office, Police Colonel Keo Thea, also told Fairfax Media that Davis-Charles could face up to two years in jail if convicted under Cambodia’s penal code for allegedly engaging in surrogacy and allegedly falsifying documents.
Luke Hunt can followed on Twitter @lukeanthonyhunt