PHNOM PENH - A Japanese restaurant owner accused of overseeing a smuggling ring that forced women into sex work in Japan was charged with trafficking in Cambodia Tuesday, along with his wife and an employee.
The charges follow the dramatic rescue of seven Cambodian women from a restaurant in Gunma, northwest of Tokyo, in December after one of them made a desperate plea for help on Facebook.
Japan has long been a destination for Southeast Asian women who travel seeking higher wages but often find themselves forced into sex work or indentured labour.
On Tuesday a municipal court in the capital Phnom Penh charged a Japanese restaurant owner in the city, his Cambodian wife and a local employee with human trafficking offences.
"The prosecutor has forwarded the case to investigating judge for further procedures," court spokesman Ly Sophana told AFP.
Police allege the Japanese man, 52-year-old Susumu Fukui, lured the women with promises of high wages and personally delivered them to a contact in Gunma in November.
The women thought they were going to work as restaurant staff but soon found themselves forced to have sex with clients.
The co-accused are Fukui's wife, Lim Leakhana, 28, and restaurant worker Seng Chandy, 30.
Last month Japanese police arrested three people - two Japanese and a Thai national - in a series of raids which also led to the discovery of 10 Thai women who they said may be victims of the same prostitution ring.
Last August the Philippines warned its citizens against illegally travelling to Japan in search of work, saying they risked being trafficked for sex or forced labour.
Washington's annual report on people trafficking says Japan remains a "destination, source and transit" country for human trafficking despite a recent increase in prosecutions.
"Traffickers strictly control the movement of victims using debt bondage, threats of violence or deportation, blackmail, passport retention, and other coercive psychological methods," the State Department's 2016 report says.
Japanese police rescued 49 victims of human trafficking in 2015, according to latest figures from the National Police Agency.