Graham Cleghorn….victim of injustice in Cambodia?

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TVNZ - Closeup
March 8 2006

Kiwi in Cambodia claims innocence

For two years New Zealander Graham Cleghorn has been locked up in a Cambodian jail serving a 20 year sentence for the rape of five teenage girls.

He says he's innocent and claims to be the victim of a set-up by the Cambodian Women's Crisis Centre (CWCC).

Cleghorn, 58, was originally convicted in a trial which lasted nine hours and his lawyer didn't speak. Then earlier this year Cleghorn's appeal was heard in Phnom Penh, without his knowledge.

"Graham was not in the courtroom, no embassy representative was in the courtroom, none of his witnesses or the lawyer were there in the courtroom... only the CWCC representative was there and three girls," says Cleghorn's Cambodian lawyer Dy Borima - one of the country's top criminal lawyers.

The CWCC is Cambodia's equivalent of Women's refuge.

Cambodia is seen as a haven for foreigners looking for sex and the CWCC is one of the most active organisations fighting the problem. But sex offenders accuse the organisation of offering bribes to alleged victims in return for them testifying in court

Cleghorn told Charlotte Glennie that the CWCC turned up at his village and offered people $US10,000 to say he had interfered with their children. He says no-one at his village would do it so they went to other villages were they found girls who were willing to testify against him.

Cleghorn says the more people that are arrested for sex offences the more overseas funding the CWCC can get. He says he wants the CWCC investigated.

CWCC director Ms Chanthol says the claims are absurd.

"We never pay for anyone, yeah of course we pay for accommodation... they are poor they cannot pay for food when they come to Phnom Penh to join the trial of course we we pay for their transportation...but we never, ever pay any money," she says.

Chanthol says they had 263 cases last year and it would be impossible to pay them all $10,000 each.

Cleghorn moved to Cambodia around 1990 and was living on the outskirts of Siem Reap. He told Close Up he has had dozens of teenagers and young women living in his house at different times. He says he used to pay them to do domestic chores and out some of them through school.

Cleghorn says the only one he ever had sex with was Baut Toer, who he refers to as his wife. Whether they were ever married is questionable. She was 13 or 14 when she moved in with Cleghorn and he says around four years later they began a relationship.

The CWCC says he used the girl as a pre-text to hide what he did with many children.

Guilt or innocence aside New Zealand's ambassador in Thailand Peter Rider will speak to authorities in Phnom Penh on Thursday to get some answers about Cleghorn's case and how it has been handled.

"Despite our asking to be kept informed how was it that he and the embassy were unaware of the appeal taking place? But I think more importantly we'll be wanting to look to the future. How do we now redress the situation? How do we work the system so that Graham gets a chance for a fair hearing - a chance to put his case, his side of events to the appeal judge?" Says Rider.