Thailand allows Russian pianist on child sex charge to leave

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The Independent Online

A famed Russian pianist and conductor who is accused of raping a teenage boy in a Thai resort has been allowed to leave the country and prepare for a forthcoming concert appearance.

A court in the coastal town of Pattaya granted bail to Mikhail Pletnev and gave him permission to fly to Europe, as long he returns within the next 12 days.

Police said the 53-year-old musician, who has several properties in the resort, has denied the allegations and intends to return to Thailand to defend himself.

The arrest of the conductor of the Russian National Orchestra earlier this week is just the latest in a series of high-profile cases in Thailand involving allegations of paedophilia. Mr Pletnev faces up to 20 years in jail if he is convicted of the charges.

"We expect him to come back given that he is famous and that he claims that he is innocent. And since he has hired a legal team, we expect him to come back to fight the case," said Lt-Colonel Omsin Sukkankaa, a police spokesman.

The musician, who in 2005 won a Grammy award for his arrangement of Prokofiev's Cinderella, is due to lead his orchestra in a summer music festival in Macedonia next week.

Reports say the organisers of the event in the town of Ohrid expect Mr Pletnev and his fellow musicians to participate and that the allegations will be countered with a defence of mistaken identity.

Yet not everyone approves of the decision by the court to allow the high-profile conductor bail of $9,000 (£6,000) and permission to fly out of Thailand.

"Why the judge let him go is a question that has struck in many of our hearts. There are some questions that need to be answered," said Supagon Noja of the Child Protection and Development Centre, a Pattaya-based non-governmental organisation.

Thailand has long carried a reputation as a destination for sex tourists and paedophiles because of a repeated failure by the authorities to enforce laws. Pattaya, located 90 miles from the capital, Bangkok, has for decades been notorious for its nightlife and prostitution.

Police said Mr Pletnev was arrested while he was eating dinner following a tip-off from a Thai national, Traipob Boonmasong, who had himself been charged with child rape and involvement in a child-prostitution ring.

Colonel Omsin said the evidence against the musician, who owns a restaurant and a club in Pattaya, include a statement from a 14-year-old boy who claims he was twice raped by him in Mr Traipob's house. They also discovered photographs of Mr Pletnev, who has lived in Thailand for the past 15 years, in so-called "compromising situations" with other young boys.

"The boy said he had lived in Traipob's house for a year and was raped by Pletnev twice," said Colonel Omsin. "The first time was in the middle of last year and the second time was early this year."

The conductor is a member of the Russian President's advisory board on culture and holds the title of "people's artist", the highest such award for people working in the arts.

He has denied all of the allegations against him. He has said his dealings with Mr Traipob were connected to the care for his Pattaya properties when he was on the road, and that he had no knowledge about the man's alleged involvement in a child-sex ring.