Australian nurse charged in Cambodia over illegal commercial surrogacy operation

Staff of Tammy Davis-Charles (not pictured) in a police vehicle after appearing for a questioning at the Municipal Court of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Nov 21, 2016.
Staff of Tammy Davis-Charles (not pictured) in a police vehicle after appearing for a questioning at the Municipal Court of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Nov 21, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

PHNOM PENH (REUTERS) - A Cambodian court charged an Australian nurse on Monday (Nov 21) for allegedly operating an illegal fertility clinic, police said, weeks after the country declared a ban on commercial surrogacy.

Tammy Davis-Charles, 49, allegedly charged foreign couples US$50,000 (S$71,267.25) for surrogacy services and paid Cambodian women between US$10,000 to US$12,000 to carry babies on their behalf, Police Colonel Keo Thea, the director of Phnom Penh's anti-trafficking bureau, said.

She was detained in the Cambodian capital at the weekend, and charged along with two Cambodian staff, Penh Rithy and Samrithchan Chariya. "They acted as intermediaries in surrogacy and engaged in falsifying documents," Col Keo Thea said.

Davis-Charles was too ill to attend the court on Monday and was charged in absentia, he said.

Cambodia moved to shut down its booming commercial surrogacy industry, which attracted foreign couples seeking to become biological parents, last month after similar bans in Thailand, India and Nepal.

"If we don't crack down on this, it will blossom," Col Keo Thea said, referring to commercial surrogacy. "We don't want to become a country that exports humans."

Col Keo Thea said that Davis-Charles had moved her business to Cambodia more than a year ago after Thailand closed down its surrogacy clinics in Feb 2015.

Neighbouring Thailand had previously been a top destination for fertility tourism.

Reuters was unable to reach Davis-Charles for comment.

A spokesperson for Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said on Monday that consular assistance was being provided to an Australian woman arrested in Cambodia, without elaborating.

The Australian government has advised its citizens not to visit Cambodia for commercial surrogacy arrangements.