Graham Cleghorn….victim of injustice in Cambodia?

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Australian Embassy, Cambodia
June 1 2006

Summary of Court Proceedings

An appeal hearing for Mr Lauwaert was heard at the Court of Appeal in Phnom Penh earlier today. The hearing was heard before a three judge bench. Mr Lauwaert was present at the hearing, along with the victims and their families. First Secretary (Political), Vice Consul and Senior Research Officer attended the hearing. The hearing was also attended by the media and Rudolf Knuchel, a friend of Mr Lauwaert's from Siem Reap. Mr Lauwaert's lawyer and Mr Knuchel had arranged a translator for Mr Lauwaert.

2. The chief judge asked the court if there were representatives from the Australian Embassy present. We acknowledged our presence and advised that we were at the court to observe the proceedings.

3. The victims and their families then entered the court. In total their were nine victims present at the hearing and their ages ranged between 10 and 18 years at the time the offences were committed. The presiding judge advised that the victims were present to withdraw their complaints.

4. The chief judge asked the victims whether they required a lawyer to represent them. All the victims declined legal representation.  When asked why, the victims replied that they did not need one and just wanted to have Mr Lauwaert acquitted.  The chief judge asked the victims whether they had received money to withdraw their complaints. All the victims advised that they did not receive any money. The chief judge declared that as the victims had their parents there to represent them there was no need for them to have legal representation. All parents of the victims agreed to this.

5. The chief judge asked the victims' parents whether they had received money to withdraw the charges. All the parents advised that they had not received money and simply wanted to withdraw the complaints. The chief judge asked why they wanted to withdraw the complaints, to which the parents responded, so that Mr Lauwaert could be acquitted.

6. The chief judge asked the victims and their families if they wanted a closed hearing as the discussion would be of an intimate nature. The victims and their families declined and asked that it be an open hearing.

7. The chief judge then read out the facts of the case as recorded at the trial in Siem Reap.  This included reading statements given by Mr Lauwaert and the victims. Mr Lauwaert then replied by saying that he wanted to retract his statements as they were taken without the presence of his lawyer and he did not thumbprint them. The judges questioned Mr Lauwaert in some detail as to which statements he wished to retract and why. Mr Lauwaert advised that he wanted to retract those statements without a thumbprint. He advised the court that he was also unhappy with the translator during his first trial, as he lacked qualifications. The judges asked if the translator at the appeal was qualified. The judges and Mr Lauwaert agreed that they were happy with the translator.

8. Mr Lauwaert then gave testimony as to the events leading up to his arrest.  He stated that he only knew three of the victims that were present and that he had employed them at different times as housekeepers.

9. One judge then questioned Mr Lauwaert about the evidence that was taken from his house.  Mr Lauwaert claimed that none of the evidence collected was his and that he had asked the Australian Embassy and/or the AFP to perform forensic examinations on the evidence.

10. Mr Lauwaert advised the court that his statement taken in front of the investigating judge was taken without his lawyer or a translator present and that he asked that the judge call the Australian Embassy but he said no. Mr Lauwaert also advised the court that he was not present at the time the evidence was collected from his house and there were no photographs to prove that the evidence was found in his home.

11. One of the judges advised the court that the evidence collected was on display at the original trial and during the trial it disappeared. The judge explained that the evidence was found in the sewerage system at the court and that Mr Lauwaert was the only person to use the toilets. The judge asked why Mr Lauwaert had tried to dispose of the evidence if it wasn't his. Mr Lauwaert admitted to attempting to dispose of the evidence because he was scared and confused at the time and that he thought the trial judge was going to convict him on that evidence. Mr Lauwaert claimed that the local police and the CWCC, a local NGO, were involved in scams to extract money out of foreigners and that they had set him up.

12. The judges then questioned the victims and their families in depth as to why they wanted to withdraw their complaints. The judges advised the families of the consequences of changing their testimony and that it could include imprisonment and could lead to Mr Lauwaert suing them for defamation and false imprisonment should his conviction be overturned. The victims and their families advised that they wished to withdraw their complaints.

13. The judges also questioned the victims and their families regarding their dealings with the CWCC. One victim advised she was told by a man from the CWCC what to say in her original statement. One judge remarked that the statements given by the victims to the police, the investigating judge and at the original trial were very specific and were very similar. He said that he was surprised that the victims could now not remember the statements they had given.  He also remarked that the initial statements by the victims to the police were given before any involvement of the CWCC.

14. One judge asked one of the victims why she was changing her testimony. She replied by saying that she did not trust the CWCC and that they had kept her for six months and she was not allowed to go anywhere. Some victims said the CWCC had lied to them in failing to provide money for their testimony. Mr Lauwaert's lawyer did not question any of the victims or their families.

15. Mr Lauwaert then made a statement to the court saying he was innocent, had done nothing wrong and was seeking justice not only for himself, but also the victims as they had been deceived by the CWCC. Mr Lauwaert added that he had never broken the law or been arrested before.

16. The judges asked the victims and their families to reconfirm that they wished to withdraw their complaints.  All the victims and families confirmed this wish.

17. Mr Lauwaert's lawyer and the prosecutor then gave their closing statements. Following the closing statements, the chief judge advised the court that the verdict for this case will be heard at 0730 on 9 June 2006. The hearing lasted three and a half hours.

18. After the hearing, Mr Lauwaert was interviewed for several minutes by the media covering the trial.

19. Following the hearing post contacted the chief judge to enquire about appeals following the verdict. The judge advised that Mr Lauwaert, the prosecutors office and the victims are the only people than can appeal the verdict. Each party has 60 days to lodge an appeal following delivery of the verdict.

20. Post also contacted the director of PJ Prison in Phnom Penh and asked whether Mr Lauwaert would remain in Phnom Penh until the date of the verdict or whether he will be transported back to Siem Reap prison. The director advised that he has not received any direction to return Mr Lauwaert to Siem Reap and that it appears that he will remain in Phnom Penh until the verdict is heard. 

Report ends