- Associated Press - Monday, July 19, 2010

PATTAYA, THAILAND (AP) - A renowned Russian pianist and conductor arrested on child sex charges returned to Thailand for a court hearing Monday, honoring the terms of his controversial release on bail that allowed him to leave the country.

Mikhail Pletnev, the conductor and founder of the Russian National Orchestra, told reporters before his court appearance that allegations he had raped a 14-year-old boy were “not true.”

“During the police search of my home, nothing connected with the allegations _ no photographs or other visual material _ was found on (my) computer,” he said, reading from a prepared statement.

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 the conductor’s July 6 arrest is one of the most prominent cases to date.

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

After his arrest in the seaside resort town of Pattaya, the provincial court granted him permission to leave the country to perform at a festival in Macedonia, after posting bail of about $9,000.

Anti-pedophile activists, doubting he would return, had criticized the action as too lenient for someone accused of a serious crime.

“(Since my return) I hope everyone now accepts that I am a man of honor and that I am a man of my word,” said Pletnev.

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.

He owns a restaurant and the Euro Club _ which includes a swimming pool and badminton courts _ in Pattaya, where he reportedly lives in a palatial compound.

Activists still believe there is a strong case against him.

“It’s up to the police now to collate all the evidence and call the witnesses,” said Supagon Noja of the Child Protection and Development Center, a non-governmental organization.