Graham Cleghorn….victim of injustice in Cambodia?

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March 10 2006

Convicted NZ rapist to get rehearing

New Zealand ambassador to Thailand Peter Rider has confirmed that a New Zealander jailed for rape of five girls in Cambodia is set to have an appeal against his conviction reheard.

Former aid worker Graham Cleghorn, 55, was jailed in February 2004 and is being held in Phnom Penh's Prey Sar prison.

He is serving 20 years for the rape of five teenage girls – a conviction he has said he is innocent of.

Mr Rider met with Cambodia's Secretary of State for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday, who confirmed local authorities will consider a new hearing for Cleghorn.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokeswoman Helen Tunnah said the decision was made because neither Cleghorn nor his lawyer received advice of an earlier appeal hearing in January, so were not present.

"Mr Rider was tonight (NZT) to meet Mr Cleghorn and his lawyer Dy Borima. He expects to contact Mr Cleghorn's family after that meeting," Ms Tunnah said.

Any decision to lodge an application for a re-hearing rested with Mr Cleghorn and his legal advisers, she said.

Cambodian Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana said earlier that the appeal anomaly had arisen due to confusion in Cambodia's still developing judicial system and that on these grounds he was ready to accept a proposal by a lawyer for Cleghorn for a new hearing.

"Cambodian law does not stipulate clearly about the Appeals Court for the New Zealand man's case. However, in my capacity as minister and a member of the Magistracy Council, if they request me to grant a retrial because he had no translator and no lawyer present, I can do so," Vathana said.

The Magistracy Council is headed by King Norodom Sihamoni and, as well as the minister, includes the chief magistrates from the Appeals and Supreme courts of Cambodia.

In February 2004 Cleghorn was convicted of raping five former female employees in the northern city of Siem Reap and sentenced to 20 years in jail and to pay each woman $US2000 ($NZ3125) compensation.

His appeal against the charges was thrown out by the Appeals Court in absentia in January.

The New Zealand Embassy in Bangkok has made an official complaint to the Cambodian government that it was not informed the hearing was to be held, and Cleghorn says he was not aware of the hearing until nearly a month afterwards.

Cleghorn, a former tour guide and the owner of prime land on the edge of the Angkor Wat temple complex, has maintained his innocence and claims that his accusers were motivated by offers of compensation by the non-government organisation which supplied their legal representation, Cambodian Women's Crisis Center (CWCC).

CWCC director Chanthol Oung Tuesday strongly denied Cleghorn's claims as "laughable" but said that whether or not the hearing was rescheduled and how it was held was a matter for the court.

In a prison interview last Saturday, Cleghorn appealed to the New Zealand Government to ensure he was granted a fair trial.

Such a trial would require the court to not only ensure he was present but to allow defence witnesses to be heard and for his legal representation to be allowed to cross-examine his accusers, which he said neither the Siem Reap court nor the Appeals Court had so far allowed him to do.