Graham Cleghorn….victim of injustice in Cambodia?

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National Nine News
June 9 2006; 14:56 AEST

Australians lose appeal on rape charges

A Cambodian appeals court has upheld long jail sentences against two Australians despite their young accusers changing their stories of rape and sexual harassment.

Bart Lauwaert, 39, a former English language teacher was convicted and sentenced in 2003 to 20 years on charges of raping his young maids, aged between 12 and 14 in northwestern Siem Reap province, the gateway to the kingdom's famed Angkor Wat temples.

Another Australian Clint Rex Betteridge, who fled Cambodia before his trial, has also been ordered to serve 10 years if he returns to the South East Asian kingdom.

Lauwaert denied he raped the maids, and his alleged victims had recanted their accusations in a hearing last week saying they were never assaulted.

Nine girls told the appeal court that the Cambodian Women's Crisis Centre (CWCC), a non-governmental organisation, urged them to testify against Lauwaert, claiming he would be forced to pay them money if he was found guilty.

The CWCC on Wednesday denied the accusation.

Neither Lauwaert nor the victims appeared on Friday in court for the decision.

"The victims' testimony in lower court matched with Bart Lauwaert's testimony and with evidence presented by authorities," judge Saly Theara said.

"So the victims' denial to court of appeal (last Friday) is groundless. Bart Lauwaert's denial is also groundless," the judge said.

"The suspect did commit the crime as the lower court charged. The court of appeal totally agrees with this decision," the judge said.

But the judge cancelled compensation of $US20,000 ($A27,000) that the lower court had ordered Lauwaert to pay to the victims and their families.

It also struck out a similar order that Betteridge pay $US8,000 ($A10,800).

Lauwaert's lawyer Dy Borima called the verdict an "injustice" and said a further appeal would be made to Cambodia's Supreme Court.

"It is an injustice for my client. My client might not be satisfied with the appeal court's decision," the lawyer told reporters, saying he might turn to the country's highest court.

A spokesman from the Australian embassy declined to comment on the verdict, but said he came to observe to make sure Lauwaert would "receive full rights under legal proceedings, conducted in a fair and a transparent manner."

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 paedophiles.