- Associated Press - Thursday, July 8, 2010

BANGKOK (AP) - Acclaimed Russian pianist and conductor Mikhail Pletnev has been allowed to leave Thailand after being charged with raping a teenage boy on the condition he return following a concert appearance in Europe, police said Thursday.

Pletnev, who was arrested at a restaurant Monday in the beach town of Pattaya, flew out of the country, either to Moscow or elsewhere in Europe, for a scheduled concert, Russia’s Interfax news agency said, quoting Andrei Dvornikov, the country’s consul in Bangkok.

“We expect him to come back (from his European music tour) given that he is famous and that he claims that he is innocent. And since he has hired a legal team, we expect him to come back to fight the case,” police Lt. Col. Omsin Sukkanka said.

Pletnev has said the charges were the result of a misunderstanding.

Interfax and other Russian media reported that Pletnev planned to return to Thailand to report to the court on July 18. He is scheduled to conduct in Ohrid, Macedonia, on July 12 and his next planned appearance is in August.

Pletnev was released on 300,000 baht ($9,000) bail following a court appearance in Pattaya on Tuesday and ordered to report to the court every 12 days. The court initially said he would not be allowed to leave the country but later reversed its decision, Omsin said.

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

Pletnev founded the Russian National Orchestra, the country’s first independent orchestra, and was its first principal conductor, according to the orchestra’s website. Today, he is the artistic director.

The granting of bail to Pletnev _ and allowing him to leave the country _ while he faces such serious charges was unexpected, though not unprecedented. Both police and court officials declined to directly address the issue.

“Why the judge let (Pletnev) go is a question that has struck in many of our hearts. There are some questions that need to be answered,” said Supagon Noja of the Child Protection and Development Center.

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 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 found photos of Pletnev in compromising situations with young boys.

Omsin said evidence in the case included a statement from a 14-year-old boy who said Pletnev had raped him twice at Traipob’s home.

“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 Pletnev had appeared in some photographs with the alleged victim, but no suspicious activity was depicted.

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.

Pletnev 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.

The resort town is known for its raucous night life, playing host to foreign criminal gangs and police suspected of corruption. It is also a major destination for Russian tourists.

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 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.

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Associated Press writers Thanyarat Doksone in Bangkok and Jim Heintz, David Nowak and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.

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Online:

Russian National Orchestra: http://www.russianarts.org/rno/index.cfm

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