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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Extradition net closes in on sex offender Betterridge

Extradition net closes in on sex offender Betterridge

A team from the Australian government has reportedly agreed that Canberra will extradite

a convicted pedophile who fled Cambodia last month to escape a lengthy jail term.

Mu Sochua, the Minister of Women's Affairs, said she had reached agreement with the

team in discussions on February 12 that Clint Betterridge would be brought back to

Cambodia. That followed a request by her ministry that he be extradited.

"They showed their willingness to extradite him," Sochua said. "I

am hopeful because I believe the two governments will rely on the law to give justice

to the victims."

Betterridge jumped bail and left the country last month after the Australian Embassy

in Phnom Penh mistakenly issued him a passport. His flight came days before he was

sentenced to ten years in jail by a court in Siem Reap. His former housemate, fellow

Australian Bart Lauwaert, received 20 years for sexual abuse offenses against children.

The incident was a major embarrassment for the Australian government, which has been

vocal about the need to prosecute child-sex offenders. Foreign Minister Alexander

Downer weighed in to the debate and promised that Betterridge, who is believed to

be in Australia, would be arrested.

An embassy spokesperson in Phnom Penh could not comment on whether an agreement on

his extradition had been reached. There is no standing extradition agreement between

the two nations.

"There is a delegation here at the invitation of the Royal Government of Cambodia

to discuss how we can ensure Mr Betterridge faces justice in Cambodia," the

spokesperson said. "The team appreciates the very constructive approach of the

Cambodian government in these discussions, which shares the same goal of bringing

Mr Betterridge to justice in Cambodia."

Siem Reap Judge Plang Chhlam told the Post that he had sentenced Betterridge to ten

years in jail on January 29 for sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl, and of debauchery

involving a 15-year-old girl, and indecent assault of two older girls.

Betterridge was also ordered to pay $2,000 compensation to each of the girls' families.

He had been in jail awaiting trial since August 2002.

"I think that the Australian foreign minister is a law-abiding man who does

not want a convicted criminal to escape the net of the law," Chhlam said. "But

of course I cannot be sure the conviction will stand because a higher court could

overturn it."

The debacle came about after the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh ordered Betterridge released

on bail on January 8, but confiscated his passport to prevent him fleeing. He then

approached the embassy in Phnom Penh and demanded it issue him a new passport.

A spokesperson at Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra

told the Post that under the Australian Passports Act, an Australian citizen is entitled

to receive a replacement passport if theirs is confiscated.

However the minister is entitled to refuse such a request if the individual represents

a threat to the health or safety of others. The Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh

had received the wrong advice from the desk in Canberra - which had not contacted

the minister - and issued the passport.

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