Graham Cleghorn….victim of injustice in Cambodia?

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The Dominion Post
February 21 2006

Kiwi 'victim of copycat sex sting'
by Matthew Torbit

A Swiss man falsely jailed on sex charges in Cambodia believes New Zealander Graham Cleghorn is a victim of the same scam that saw him spend time behind bars.

Cleghorn, a former aid worker and tourism operator in Cambodia, is serving 20 years in Phnom Penh's Prey Sar maximum security prison for the rape of five teenage girls. He maintains his innocence.

In October 2002, Swiss hotelier Rudolf Knuchel successfully defended molestation charges brought against him by the Cambodian Women's Crisis Centre -- the same organisation alleged to have offered five Cambodian girls US$10,000 to accuse Cleghorn of rape.

Mr Knuchel, 59, has since received an apology from the Cambodian interior minister and continues to live in Siam Reap. He said he was arrested in 2000 on charges including raping two boys, trafficking women and children for prostitution, running a brothel, and drug and organ trafficking.

He spent 57 days in prison before his lawyer had him freed on bail before a Siam Reap District Court hearing, in which all but the molestation charges were dropped because of a lack of evidence.

At the 2002 trial, one of the boys confessed he had not been molested by Mr Knuchel.

The boy's mother took the stand and demanded US$10,000 which she said had been promised to her by the crisis centre. The judge threw the case out.

"The whole world falls on you. After my arrest the media turned on me around the world. It was so horrible for me and my family in Europe."

Mr Knuchel said he moved to Cambodia in 1990 to set up five-star hotels after working in the hotel business in Saudi Arabia.

He said he was targeted by the crisis centre because he was a landowner. Cleghorn also insists he was punished by corrupt officials who wanted his land.

Mr Knuchel said the district court judge who had been instrumental in bringing charges against him and Cleghorn had been dismissed for corruption several months ago.

Two Australian men were also in Cambodian prisons on sex charges after crisis centre workers approached young girls offering them US$10,000 to lay rape complaints against them, he said.

New Zealand's ambassador to Bangkok, Peter Rider, met representatives from Cambodia's embassy in Thailand to outline New Zealand's "grave" concerns about the legal processes surrounding Cleghorn's case.

Last month, Cleghorn's appeal was conducted and dismissed without his knowledge.

The New Zealand Government had previously raised concerns over the handling of Cleghorn's 2004 trial -- which took just nine hours.

Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry spokeswomen Helen Tunnah said Cambodian officials had not yet responded.

Mr Rider was considering visiting Cleghorn in his Phnom Penh jail cell if Cambodian officials failed to provide a satisfactory response.

Denise Ritchie, founder of New Zealand-based child rights group Stop Demand, said she first heard about Cleghorn's case after he was convicted in 2004.

It was astonishing Cleghorn had been denied a proper appeal, she said.

Three other New Zealanders are currently in overseas prisons for sex crimes against children, with sentences ranging from seven to 20 years.