Phnom Penh (dpa) - A Cambodian court on Thursday jailed an Australian woman for 18 months for falsifying documents and acting as an intermediary in a commercial surrogacy operation.
Tammy Davis-Charles was convicted by Phnom Penh Municipal Court and was also fined 4 million riels (980 dollars). Two Cambodians who worked with her received similar sentences of 18 months jail time and fines of 2 million riels.
Davis-Charles worked on behalf of Families Through Surrogacy, an Australian-based non-profit organization that links surrogates with would-be parents.
"The 18-month sentence is I believe to many Australians very harsh given Tammy Charles [sic] motivations were simply to help childless couples create a family," said Sam Everingham, global director of Families Through Surrogacy, by email.
"Her sentence also needs to be considered in the context of there being no clear laws around surrogacy in Cambodia at the time."
Davis-Charles, a 49-year-old fertility expert, has been in prison since her arrest last November by Cambodian anti-trafficking police.
Commercial surrogacy previously operated in a legal grey zone in Cambodia as it was not banned outright until October 2016 when it came to the attention of the government.
The commercial industry arrived in the country two years ago after it was banned in Thailand. Since the Cambodian ban, he said surrogacy has "partially shifted" to Laos where it is still unregulated, although most surrogates give birth in Bangkok or Singapore, according to Everingham.
Davis Charles charged foreign parents 50,000 dollars per surrogacy and paid surrogates 10,000 dollars, he also said.
At her sentencing on Thursday, the court heard evidence of Davis-Charles' work with 23 Cambodian surrogates, according to Judge Lina Sor.
Davis-Charles allegedly paid a 400-dollar finder fee to an employee for finding potential surrogates and 700 dollars for a birth certificate.
It is not uncommon, however, in Cambodia to be charged unofficial payments or "processing fees" for documents and other services.
She also allegedly falsified birth certificates to make it easier for some of the children to leave the country.
She did not address the court following her sentencing but previously said she "denied most of the charges," according to Australian media.
A representative from the Australian Embassy in attendance in court declined to comment. Davis-Charles' family did not attend the sentencing.