An NGO official embroiled in the case of convicted New Zealand rapist Graham Cleghorn
has petitioned Prime Minister Hun Sen to put justice before diplomatic interests
when his imminent appeal is reheard.
Oong Chantol, director of the Cambodian Women's Crisis Center (CWCC), said she feared
Cambodia's appeal court would overturn the charges following New Zealand's diplomatic
intervention in the case in March - which she called "unnecessary." The
CWCC is providing legal and counselling services to Cleghorn's five victims.
"When ambassadors visit, governments pay attention," she said.
"The Cambodian government depends on foreign aid, so they may want to keep a
good diplomatic relationship with New Zealand. I am scared it will influence the
Last month, Chantol said she took her concerns to Hun Sen and urged him to put justice
first "because whatever the government says, goes."
"I proposed that the Cambodian government should maintain its legal integrity
and not look at the case as a matter of diplomatic relations," she said.
New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) spokesperson Brad Tattersfield
said his government has kept a close eye on Cleghorn's case since his arrest in 2003.
He said his office decided to act when Cleghorn's appeal was held on January 11,
"[The appeal] was heard in his absence, without Mr Cleghorn, his Cambodian lawyer,
or officials of the New Zealand or British embassies being notified," Tattersfield
said. "This appeared to us to be in breach of international standards of justice."
In March, the New Zealand ambassador in Bangkok, Peter Rider, who is also accredited
to Cambodia, travelled to Phnom Penh to press justice officials to allow Cleghorn,
58, a second appeal. Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana has since announced Cleghorn's
appeal will be reheard, this time with the statutory 30 days notice, although no
date has been set.
MFAT refused to comment on the specifics of the case, saying it was "the role
of the judicial process of the country concerned to determine guilt or innocence."
"Our role is to ensure our citizens are given a fair trial and that their treatment
in prison is at least equal to that given to countries' own nationals," Tattersfield
Chantol said the New Zealand print media's "biased" reporting on the case
might have influenced Rider's actions.
"It is so unfair because [initially] those journalists didn't come to us at
all, especially journalists in New Zealand," she said. "They just wrote
Chantol said her request to meet Rider received no response.
"Diplomatic people should not behave like that," she said. "It is
their decision whether or not they intervene but they should be open to information
and communication from both sides."
When the Post asked Rider by email to comment, he replied that he had nothing to
add to what MFAT had already said.
Cleghorn was sentenced to 20 years on rape charges in 2004. In a statement published
on the Internet shortly after his conviction, he claimed he was targeted when he
refused to sell a corrupt judge land he owned near Angkor Wat. He continues to maintain
his innocence and has alleged that the judge persuaded a worker at the Siem Reap
CWCC branch - the judge's sister - to offer five of Cleghorn's maids US$10,000 to
testify he molested them.
Chantol called the claims "groundless." She showed the Post copies of police
referral forms that indicated the center was a mere go-between in the case, and said
the idea of bribing the girls was "crazy."
"Every cent we spend we have to get approval from our donors; then it's confirmed
by [accounting company] Price Waterhouse Cooper to see that we spend it in accordance
with the items we request," she said.
Donors have expressed confidence in the center's practices, she said.
Cleghorn, who moved to Cambodia in the late 1980s, has worked as a tourist guide
and bar owner in Siem Reap.
His Cambodian wife, Bout Toeur, was convicted of conspiring to collude in the rapes,
providing the girls with regular contraceptive injections under the guise of "beauty
shots." She received a three-year suspended sentence and has since given birth
to another man's baby.
Chantol said that, contrary to reports by Cleghorn's defense lawyers, none of the
five victims have retracted their statements.
"They feel some justice now and are ready to continue to the Supreme Court if
Cleghorn appeals," she said.
Cleghorn's lawyers could not be reached for comment.
Since the rapes, the girls, aged between 14 and 19 at the time off the offences in
2003, had been ostracized in their village, Chantol said. If they wanted money, Chantol
said they would have accepted bribes offered by six groups connected to Cleghorn
who she claims visited the girls' houses following Cleghorn's arrest.
"But they don't want money, they want justice."