The closed-door trial of a former director of anti-pedophile NGO Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE), who stands accused of sexually abusing 11 boys under his care at an orphanage he headed, began Tuesday with the testimony of a 22-year-old alleged victim, according to the defendant’s lawyer.
Hang Vibol, 46, was the first director of APLE but left the organization in 2005 to work full-time running the Our Home orphanage in Phnom Penh, where the alleged abuses took place. He was arrested in March following a monthslong investigation conducted by APLE and charged by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court with multiple counts of indecent assault against minors.
Mr. Vibol claims the accusations against him have been fabricated by a group led by Thierry Darnaudet, the co-founder of APLE and a former close friend, who stepped down as president of the organization last year.
“I did not commit the crime and this case was organized to hurt me,” Mr. Vibol told reporters following Tuesday’s hearing. “I just helped to take care of [the children] because I was the director of an organization.”
Mr. Vibol’s lawyer, Suy Sokhon, said the alleged victims—now between the ages of 13 and 27—had been coerced into giving false testimony, adding that there was no material evidence to prove the guilt of his client.
He said the 22-year-old who testified Tuesday told the court that Mr. Vibol touched his penis while he was a teenager at Our Home.
“I think there is no evidence to inculpate my client,” Mr. Sokhon said.
“The important point is that this happened because they had a dispute,” he added, referring to a falling out between Mr. Vibol and Mr. Darnaudet.
Since his arrest, Mr. Vibol has said that a series of feuds led to the current case against him. In 2013, he filed a complaint against Mr. Darnaudet with the ministries of social affairs and interior alleging that the Frenchman had sexually abused children. The complaint was ultimately dismissed.
Mr. Vibol also alleges that Mr. Darnaudet was angered when he refused his sexual advances, and that these events led the APLE founder to conspire with two disgruntled former Our Home employees, Jean Marie Anno and Keo Pisethdara, to plot his downfall.
Mr. Mario Anno worked for APLE during Mr. Vibol’s tenure as director and was a senior staff member at Our Home. Mr. Pisethdara was also a senior employee at the orphanage. The identity of the people who filed the initial complaint against Mr. Vibol has not been revealed.
Speaking from his home in Kolkata in March, Mr. Darnaudet denied the accusations leveled against him by Mr. Vibol and said APLE realized there would be a perceived conflict of interest in investigating its former director.
“I expressed that perhaps APLE was not the best choice to investigate,” he said at the time. “But what if the claims are true and we did not investigate?”
APLE’s current director, Samleang Seila, could not be reached by telephone Tuesday and did not respond to multiple requests for comment made through his assistant.
However, Mr. Seila previously said that APLE’s involvement in the case was not a conflict of interest, as the individuals involved in the case, including Mr. Darnaudet, had all left the organization before it began investigating Mr. Vibol.
“We are a local NGO now, run by me, and we have no connection at all now with any of these individuals. Thierry is not even on the board of directors or anywhere in the management structure,” he said in March.
The alleged victims set to testify against Mr. Vibol are also being represented by lawyers from APLE.
“I cannot comment because this case is not finished yet,” Chea Nara, the lead lawyer for APLE, said Tuesday.