Nineteen girls have claimed they were sexually abused by a Russian businessman who was arrested in Cambodia last month — the largest number of Cambodian children to allege abuse by one person in a pedophilia case, police said.

Alexander Trofimov, 41, the chairman of Koh Puos Investment Group Ltd., was detained in the southern resort town of Sihanoukville and accused of raping at least six girls. He was charged Oct. 17 with debauchery — a Cambodian legal term for sexual abuse of children.

Investigations since his arrest indicate he may have abused as many as 19 girls, said police Maj. Gen. Bit Kimhong.

"This is a first," Bit Kimhong said, noting that most pedophile cases in Cambodia involve the abuse of up to three victims. "Never has there ever been anything like this."

The victims are now aged between 11 and 18 but were younger at the time of the alleged abuse, said Samleang Seila, director of child advocacy group Action Pour Les Enfants, which has been investigating Trofimov since 2005. It was not immediately clear if all the girls were under 15 — the age of consent — when the alleged abuse occurred.

If convicted of debauchery, Trofimov could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison for each offense.

Three Cambodians were also arrested and charged with conspiring to commit debauchery and trafficking girls for the Russian, said Bit Khimong, who is head of the Interior Ministry's anti-human trafficking department. Trafficking of girls under 15 for sexual purposes is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

At least two of the alleged victims were sold to the Russian by their parents, said Samleang Seila.

Poverty and weak law enforcement make Cambodia a preferred destination for foreigners seeking to prey on children, although local police say they have stepped up efforts against pedophiles.

In September last year, the Cambodian government gave Trofimov's company permission to develop an island near Sihanoukville into a tourist resort with an initial investment of up to US$300 million.

Koh Puos, or Snake Island, is located about 800 meters (a half-mile) off Sihanoukville, which is about 185 kilometers (115 miles) southwest of Phnom Penh.