Graham Cleghorn….victim of injustice in Cambodia?

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Herald Sun
June 1 2006

Victims recant against Aussie abuser
From correspondents in Phnom Penh

The alleged victims of an Australian convicted in 2003 of raping his young maids dropped their complaints during an appeals hearing today, saying they were coerced into testifying.

Nine girls told the court that a non-governmental organisation urged them to testify against Bart Lauwaert at his trial three years ago, claiming he would be forced to pay them money if he was found guilty.

Lauwaert, 39, was convicted of raping and sexually harassing six Cambodian girls aged between 12 and 14, but his trial had been called into question over allegations that the victims had been coached.

He received 20 years in jail and was ordered to pay $US20,000 ($A26,600) in compensation to the victims and their families.

"He did not rape me at all. What I said earlier was because of the organisation," said 18-year-old Koeun Savy after the hearing ended.

She was working in Lauwaert's house at the time he was arrested in 2002.

"I have not received any money yet," she told reporters, describing Lauwaert as a "Buddhist monk" who helped the poor.

Lauwaert, a former English teacher, was arrested in the northern city of Siem Reap, gateway to the famed Angkor temples, with another Australian, Clint Rex Betteridge.

Following today's hearing Lauwaert said: "I believe I'll find justice."

"I absolutely deny all the charges. I never abused, raped or did anything wrong in Cambodia. I have been in prison for four years, I am totally innocent," he said as he was brought back to prison.

Lauwaert repeated his allegations that the NGO Cambodian Women's Crisis Center (CWCC) had "kidnapped" the young girls and told them they could get money for testifying against foreigners.

Ung Chanthol, executive director of the CWCC, which has been involved in several high-profile cases of foreign sex offenders, could not be immediately reached by telephone.

When asked if he would sue the CWCC, Lauwaert said he did not know. He also said he was unsure if he would remain in Cambodia if released.

"I'm very tired. I have been in prison for a very long time. I'll think about that later," he said.

The court is expected to announce its verdict on June 9.

Betteridge, 39, fled Cambodia in 2003 before he could go on trial after the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh mistakenly issued him with a replacement passport.

He received 10 years in jail and an $US8,000 ($A10,650) fine in absentia, but remains in Australia fighting an extradition order.

Around two dozen foreigners have been jailed or deported to face trial in their home countries for child sex crimes since 2003 as Cambodia attempts to clean up its image as a haven for pedophiles.