Graham Cleghorn….victim of injustice in Cambodia?

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June 21 2006

Cambodian prisoner's lawyer to ask Govt for cash

The Wellington lawyer for convicted New Zealand paedophile Graham Cleghorn, who is serving 20 years in a Cambodian prison for raping five girls, plans to ask the New Zealand Government for money to fund his appeal.

Cleghorn, 58, was convicted of raping five young employees in 2004.

This year, he won the right to a second appeal after successfully arguing that the first appeal hearing was unfair as neither he nor his lawyers knew about it until it was over.

The new appeal date has been set for July 10.

However, the defence received another setback this week when Cleghorn's Cambodia lawyer, Dy Borima, quit the case, citing "frustration" at the corrupt court system.

Speaking on National Radio today, Cleghorn's New Zealand lawyer, Greg King, said the family's legal fund of $US6500 ($NZ10,650), held in trust in Cambodia, had been almost exhausted.

While the Legal Services Agency did not provide legal aid for New Zealanders facing criminal convictions overseas, he was exploring "other avenues".

One option was to approach the Prime Minister and Cabinet for an ex-gratia payment, such as those given as aid after a tsunami or earthquake, he said.

"The Government does have funds available to do that and it's a matter of petitioning them," he said.

Mr King denied that such a grant would set a precedent.

"I don't think this situation arises very often.

"I think New Zealand has an obligation under the Geneva Convention to ensure that our citizens are accorded due legal process wherever they are in the world, and whether that extends to providing funding in what is quite an exceptional case is open to debate."

A quote receive overnight from the new Cambodian lawyer, Otago University trained Ock Ry, was about $US6500 in total – including $US2000 expenses for getting witnesses to Phnom Penh.

Mr King said he was waiting for the final bill from the previous lawyer.

"We don't want to go to the Government unless we have to, or know what the shortfall is."

In an interview from Prey Sar prison outside Phnom Penh last week, Cleghorn said he had no hope of a fair trial and insisted he was the victim of a "sex sting".

He said the Cambodian Women's Crisis Centre (CWCC) set him up to promote its "lucrative fund-raising" and enable corrupt officials to lay claim to his small property near Angkor Wat.

CWCC head Oung Chanthoul has strenuously and consistently denied she has any influence over the court.

She alleged the complainants were approached by Cleghorn's supporters with offers of money to drop their claims.

Last week, two Australians – Clinton Rex Betterridge and Bart Lauwaert – lost their appeals against their rape convictions, despite reports that all the witnesses against them had recanted, saying the CWCC had coerced them into making the allegations.

Mr King said it was "a bizarre situation for someone familiar with Western-style justice systems".

He was also suspicious of the fact that the Court of Appeal finally set a date for Cleghorn's hearing on the very day that his lawyer quit.

Cleghorn's former lawyer, Mr Borima, also represented the other two men.

Mr King said it could be "another attempt to wash this thing under the carpet and get it dealt with as quickly and quietly as possible".

The short notice would make it "almost impossible" for the new lawyer to get a case together, he said.

The legal team was afraid that if they sought an adjournment, the case could be put off indefinitely.

The defence will argue that the first trial was unfair because Cleghorn was prevented from cross-examining the complainants, and was not allowed to call seven witnesses, who said they too were "kidnapped" by the CWCC and threatened and bribed to give evidence against him.

Mr King said no one had much confidence that the Court of Appeal would rule in Cleghorn's favour.

If the appeal failed, they could possibly take the case to the Supreme Court, he said.

He noted that the Australian Government had been so concerned about the corruption in the Cambodian justice system that it had refused to extradite Betterridge.

He was released from an Australian jail by ministerial decree after his appeal was thrown out by the Cambodian Court of Appeal last week.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister's office said he was not sure whether Cabinet had ever provided funding for a New Zealander's legal defence in an overseas jurisdiction.

"However, we will look at his letter when we receive it," he told NZPA.