Graham Cleghorn says he fully expects to be found guilty in the defamation case against him on Friday.
“I’m going to stand up there and they’re going to say ‘you’re guilty, here’s the sentence’,” he said, before adding: “Find me a case where a foreigner has been found innocent in Cambodia.”
New Zealander Cleghorn, 62, was sentenced by Siem Reap provincial court in 2004 to 20 years in prison for the rape of five girls aged between 14 and 19. He is due to attend a verdict hearing today in the defamation case bought against him by the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Centre.
Following the 2004 conviction, he was accused by the CWCC of claiming through various media outlets that the NGO offered to pay each victim US$10,000 each to testify against him. In a hearing last Monday, Mea Sophea, the lawyer representing the CWCC in Siem Reap, requested that the court demand Cleghorn pay US$5,000 in compensation.
But in an interview with the Post at Prey Sar prison this week, Cleghorn, defending himself in the complaint, repeated previous statements that the case should never have made it to court.
“Apparently I’m not allowed to tell you that those people [the CWCC] are thieves and liars and set me up, because that’s defamation now,” he says. “Any information I gave to the court [in prior hearings] is privileged information and can’t be used against me in a defamation case.”
CWCC denies claims
In an email last month, CWCC representative Say Vathany called the bribery claims “groundless”.
“CWCC wishes to express deep disappointment in Mr Graham Cleghorn’s groundless accusation against CWCC. These attacks prompted CWCC to file a defamation case against Mr Cleghorn,” she said.
“His defamation against CWCC is intended to discredit CWCC in a desperate attempt to influence a more favourable verdict for his case in the Supreme Court.”
During the hearing last week, Siem Reap-based CWCC manager Ket Noeun said 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 told the court. “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.”
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the legal aid NGO Cambodian Defenders Project, said any claims made in hearings cannot be used in a defamation complaint, unless the accused spoke to the press independently and out of court.
“If [the media] publish a statement made in court, it is not defamation,” he said. “Otherwise, no-one would testify.”
Cleghorn has never denied making the claims in court, but denies making the claims in interviews to the press.
He said his comments regarding the CWCC “are the basis of my defence” and cannot be used in a defamation suit against him.
Moreover, he claims the case is “sub judice”, or now under consideration by a court, as he prepares for an appeal on his conviction with the Supreme Court.
“You can’t hear a case in a minor court that’s subject to a decision in a higher court,” he said, claiming that any comments he has made about the CWCC have not been proved false by the Supreme Court. Until they are proven to be false, he says, the comments are factual.
Money and Land
Cleghorn said the CWCC has been out to “persecute” him since day one, and for two reasons: money and land.
He said one of the judges he claimed was involved in his conviction, Ten Senarong, is “the most corrupt judge Siem Reap has ever seen” and conspired with the CWCC to imprison him.
“Ten Senarong was after my land,” he said. “I had a lot of land [in Siem Reap] on various titles … and the land was in my wife’s name. About two years ago, I gave [the land] up.”
He says he does not know who now owns the land. But he maintains that Ten Senarong and the CWCC were behind his conviction in an effort to gain his land and foreign donor money.
“[Ten Senarong’s] made money, but not as much money as he wanted to make because I’ve told everyone what a lying, thieving … dog he is.”
But Ten Senarong, now an investigating judge with the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, denied being involved in the case.
“He is probably confused and made wrong accusations against me as the most corrupted judge,” he said.
“At that time I had already moved to be a judge at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, in November 2002. There is a royal decree as evidence.”
Cleghorn faces an extra two years in prison for each victim that he refuses to pay $2,000 in compensation to in relation to his rape conviction. He said the money will go unpaid.
“I don’t give a f… what they do,” he said. “I am what I am, and I am not going to pay these girls for lying. At least I can look in the mirror every morning and like what I see.”
When asked if he would pay any compensation if he is found guilty of defamation today, he grinned and said: “What do you think?” ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHRANN CHAMROEUN AND BROOKE LEWIS