Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday heard a defamation case against a New Zealand man convicted of rape, who has accused a local NGO of offering money to his victims in exchange for them testifying against him through various media outlets.
Graham Cleghorn, 62, was convicted in 2004 of raping five teenage girls between the ages of 14 and 19 who were employed as maids at his Siem Reap home. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and faces an extra two years per victim if he refuses to pay each of them US$2,000 in compensation.
He has since claimed in several media interviews that the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Centre, an NGO that provides services to vulnerable women and children, had offered the five girls US$10,000 each to testify against him.
Speaking before the hearing, Cleghorn reiterated previous statements made to the press that the CWCC offered the girls the money to testify.
“The evidence was first given in court, so it can’t be defamation,” he said. “This is called persecution. If the judge is smart he will throw [the case] out, but he has probably been paid.”
He said the CWCC were suing him for defamation because his comments are “costing them donor money”. He accused the NGO of holding women and girls against their will, until their fathers “went and said ‘we’ll shoot up the place’”.
When asked if he had evidence of the claims, he said the municipal court only informed his lawyer of the current hearing on Friday and he had no time to collect the evidence already submitted in the Supreme Court, despite a hearing being reconvened from October 13 to yesterday to allow him to find a lawyer and retrieve the evidence at his request.
“No foreigner gets justice here,” he said, before adding: “Evidence in Cambodia has George Washington’s face on it.”
During the hearing, Ket Noeun, manager of the CWCC in Siem Reap, told the court the defamation complaint stemmed from Cleghorn’s
repeated statements through the press.
“He hadn’t stopped his activities and still defamed the CWCC through the world media,” she said. “It was more than 10 papers [and] included the Bangkok Post and radio, and we have evidence from email and websites of his quotes accusing our organisation of persuading the five victims with a promise of $10,000 each.”
But Cleghorn, defending himself, denied the charges against him, again claiming that the court cannot hear the case until the Supreme Court makes a decision on his appeal.
“If evidence is given in a court, it cannot be used as evidence in a defamation case,” he said. “It cannot be used as evidence in a lesser court. Until the Supreme Court says it is false, then that is a true statement.”
He also denied ever meeting a journalist in Prey Sar prison, or starting a website regarding his case.
Mey Sophea, lawyer for the complainant, requested that the court demand Cleghorn pay $5,000 in compensation and to “re-correct all disinformation” by issuing an apology.
Presiding Judge Din Sivuthy said a verdict would be announced on November 26.