Grammy-winning Russian pianist-conductor Pletnev charged with raping teen in Thai beach town

By Kinan Suchaovanich, AP
Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Russian pianist accused of child rape in Thailand

PATTAYA, Thailand — Internationally acclaimed Russian pianist and conductor Mikhail Vasillievich Pletnev has been charged with raping a 14-year-old boy at a Thai beach resort, police said Wednesday. Pletnev said the charges were the result of a misunderstanding.

Pletnev, the founder of the Russian National Orchestra, was arrested Monday evening at a restaurant in Pattaya and brought to court Tuesday to face rape charges, said police Lt. Col. Omsin Sukkanka. He was released on 300,000 baht ($9,000) bail, ordered to report to the court every 12 days and banned from contacting witnesses in the case.

He could face up to 20 years in jail and a fine of up to 40,000 baht ($1,200) if found guilty.

In telephone interviews with The Associated Press, Pletnev described what happened to him as a “misunderstanding.”

“I have no idea how the charges came about,” he said. “But I more or less know where they came from.”

A business associate who gave only his first name, Sompong, said Pletnev was a victim of blackmail, but did not elaborate.

Thailand has long been known as a haven for sex tourists and pedophiles because of widespread prostitution and lax law enforcement. Authorities have voiced intentions to crack down on such offenses, and Pletnev’s arrest is one of the most prominent cases to date.

Police said the musician was detained Monday evening following a tip from Traipob Boonmasong, a Thai national who was charged with child rape for alleged involvement in a child prostitution ring. Police said they confiscated pictures of young boys, some alongside foreigners.

Evidence against Pletnev included a statement from the alleged victim, Omsin said.

“The boy said he had lived in Traipob’s house for a year and was raped by Pletnev twice. The first time was in the middle of last year and the second early this year,” Omsin said. He added that Pletnev had appeared in some photographs with the alleged victim, but no suspicious activity was depicted.

In Moscow, Russia’s ombudsman for children’s rights, Pavel Astakhov, was quoted by the state news agency RIA Novosti as saying he believes the Investigative Committee, Russia’s top investigative body, “should look into the possibility of a criminal case.”

“I would advise our investigative bodies to undertake an examination of this matter, exchanging information with the Thais,” it quoted him as saying.

Pletnev founded the Russian National Orchestra, the country’s first independent orchestra, after befriending Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev at conference in Washington, D.C., in 1988, and was its first principal conductor, according to the orchestra’s website. Today, he is the orchestra’s artistic director.

Internationally known as a pianist, conductor and composer, Pletnev won a 2005 Grammy for an arrangement of Prokofiev’s “Cinderella” which was recorded with him and Martha Argerich on piano.

Alexander Mikhailov of the Kazan State Conservatoire said the allegations were “nothing but a brazen lie.”

“This is not true,” the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper quoted him as saying. “I can’t believe this happened.”

In Thailand, Pletnev has performed as a guest conductor with the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra.

He also owns a restaurant and the Euro Club — which includes a swimming pool and badminton courts — in Pattaya. Police said he keeps personal watercraft and two powered hang gliders in his reportedly palatial residential compound in the resort, known for its wide-open night life, foreign criminal gangs and police suspected of corruption. It is also a major destination for Russian tourists.

Pletnev denied rumors that he would flee Thailand. He is under a court order to remain in the country.

“I would jump from the 26th floor (of a building) tomorrow, if I could believe those news reports. It’s interesting to learn something new about myself every day,” he said.

The newspaper Pattaya Daily News said Pletnev has lived in Thailand for the past 15 years. It quoted him as saying in an interview that the charges against him may have stemmed from his relationship with Traipob, “a talented artist” whom he had known for many years.

Pletnev said Traipob helped care for his properties when he was on the road, and that he had no knowledge about the man’s alleged involvement in a child-sex ring.

Associated Press writers Thanyarat Doksone in Bangkok and Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.


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