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Abuse trial of former orphanage boss starts

The child sex abuse trial of orphanage director and former head of child protection NGO APLE, Hang Vibol, began at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday, with the defendant reportedly testifying that the accusations against him were an attempt at revenge by aggrieved former colleagues.

Judge Kim Ratanarin said that Vibol, 46, the former director of Phnom Penh-based orphanage Our Home, was charged with committing indecent acts against a minor under 15 years old, and had been arrested in March based on complaints from 13 children living under his care.

The hearing was conducted behind closed doors, but Vibol’s attorney, Suy Sokhon, said afterwards that his client had vehemently denied the charges, which he characterised as the product of a vendetta.

“This case originally stemmed from a grudge and contentions between himself and his former staffers, and his former staffers have prepared a plot to destroy him,” Sokhon said.

Vibol blamed the accusations on APLE founder Thierry Darnaudet and ex-staffer Jean Marie Anno, whom he claimed had attempted to embezzle donor money and had become angry at Vibol when he refused to sign fraudulent reports and reported them to the ministries of Interior and Social Affairs, which did not take action.

The two conspired with Our Home staffer Keo Prasethdara – whom Vibol also accuses of engaging in sex acts in front of centre residents – to coach orphans into accusing Vibol of sexually abusing them. Vibol also claimed that photos of him bathing children were taken out of context and used as evidence of abuse.

Contact information for Anno and Prasethdara could not be obtained yesterday, and a request for comment from Darnaudet was not returned as of press time.

At the time of Vibol’s arrest, current APLE executive director Seila Samleang said it was “difficult to believe such a person, who started a mission to protect children more than 12 years ago, can abuse children”. However, Samleang could not be reached yesterday regarding the allegations of embezzlement at the organisation.

Chea Nara, an APLE lawyer representing the alleged victims, said yesterday that it was still too early to say whether Vibol was in fact guilty.

“He has denied the accusations, but until now, we cannot conclude whether he is innocent or not . . . because the court now has only completed questioning one victim, and more victims haven’t been questioned yet,” he said. “So I couldn’t say about this case yet.”

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