Graham Cleghorn….victim of injustice in Cambodia?

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Bangkok Post
June 16 2006

Kiwi despairs of fair Cambodia trial

Phnom Penh (dpa) - A New Zealander awaiting an appeal against rape charges said Friday that he believed he had no chance of a fair trial in Cambodia.

Graham Robert Cleghorn, 58, said in an interview from Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh that he believed this was why his Cambodian lawyer, Dy Borima, resigned from his case last week.

The lawyer resigned within hours of when the Phnom Penh Appeals Court judge scheduled to hear his case, Saly Theara, upheld sentences against two Australian men on sex charges brought by a controversial non-government organization, the Cambodian Women's Crisis Center (CWCC).

Borima said by email that he resigned because he believed Cleghorn needed "someone stronger".

Judge Theara's decision to uphold the 10- and 20- year respective sentences awarded to Clinton Rex Betterridge and Bart Lauwaert in Siem Reap Provincial Court in January 2003 came despite all the witnesses against them recanting. The women claimed they had been forced to lie by the CWCC with a combination of threats and promises of money.

The Australian government announced the same day that it would not extradite Betterridge, 39, who fled home just days before he was sentenced and had been held in a Queensland jail ever since, because it did not believe he could be assured of achieving natural justice if he was returned to Cambodia. Instead he was allowed to walk free.

But Cleghorn said he expected that episode to make little difference to his case in the face of a court system he said was riddled with corruption and against a case brought by a powerful organization like the CWCC with money behind it.

"Look at what they have done with my appeals so far," Cleghorn said. "At my first appeal last year, eight defence witnesses came all the way from Siem Reap to say exactly the same things as the women in the Australians' case - that they had been kidnapped, threatened and offered money to testify against me by the CWCC - and they adjourned the hearing.

"I was informed my next hearing would be held on Monday on the Friday night beforehand so that there was no chance of getting the witnesses to the court, but my lawyer managed to apply for a stay of proceedings. The third time, they held the appeal without telling me, my lawyer or the embassy it was on, although the CWCC was told. It's no surprise that appeal was unsuccessful. If you were me, what conclusions would you be reaching here?"

Cleghorn, a former tour guide, was sentenced to a 20-year jail sentence in 2004 for raping five women he employed as labourers and maids who had stayed at his Siem Reap home.

After his last appeal was held in apparent secrecy last January, New Zealand Ambassador Peter Rider stepped in to gain assurances from the Cambodian government that it would be reheld to international standards of justice.

"They don't want the people who say they were bullied, kidnapped and threatened to try to make them falsely accuse me to be heard. But as I have seen from the case of the Australians, even if they do, it makes no difference to the court. It's a done deal. I will never find justice in Cambodia. Too many people are making too much money."

He also denied allegations printed in a New Zealand newspaper that he had made any attempt to bribe the five women.

"That's rubbish. I have never tried to bribe anyone. Even if I was the sort of person to consider that option, I have no money, and what would be the point of bribing the women anyway? It seems to me that if you bribe anyone in this country, you bribe the judge, and that isn't an option - for a small fish like me, at least," he said.

Cleghorn maintains he was framed by corrupt officials who wanted his valuable land and the CWCC, which he claims has used high-profile convictions of foreigners to secure millions of dollars in donor funding, and that the women testifying against him were promised thousands of dollars in compensation by the CWCC if they made false complaints.

The CWCC first came under fire for its methods in a Far Eastern Economic Review article in March 2004 in which a senior CWCC official admitted detaining women and children and giving gifts to police prior to conviction, maintaining it was a necessary means to an end and for the protection of women's rights.

CWCC head Oung Chanthoul has strenuously and consistently denied she has any influence over the court. She stood by her allegations this week that the women against Cleghorn were approached with offers of money to drop their claims, but admitted she had little to offer in the way of evidence except their testimonies.

"The girls complained to me that people had come to see them. I have their words," she said.

UN High Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour said after a visit to Cambodia last month that judicial reform was the "single most important area in which Cambodia needed to make progress", saying many judges lacked training, integrity and independence.

Judge Theara was unavailable for comment Friday but at the time he handed down his verdict he said he had discounted the women's testimony in favour of forensic evidence.