The Appeals Court on Friday upheld the Siem Reap Provincial Court’s 20-year jail term for Australian Bart “Lucky” Lauwaert but dropped a demand that he financially compensate the Cambodian girls and young women he was convicted of sexually abusing in 2003.
Despite nine of 10 witnesses withdrawing their complaints against the Australian at the appeal’s hearing on June 1, Presiding Judge Saly Theara said on Friday that Lauwaert’s appeal had failed because forensic evidence presented at the lower court trial pointed to his guilt.
Saly Theara also said that the nine witnesses’ reversal of their original testimony against Lauwaert, which they claimed was the result of pressure from the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, was suspicious.
The CWCC became involved in the case after the women had complained to Siem Reap Provincial Police.
“Bart Lauwaert’s denial [of guilt] was groundless because the forensics documents have already proved the charge,” the judge said.
“The suspect really committed the crime as found by the lower court. The lower court’s decision is just,” he said.
Lawyer Dy Borima said the ruling was unjust and he would appeal on behalf of Lauwaert to the Supreme Court.
An Australian Embassy official, who declined to reveal his name, said after the trial that the embassy was monitoring Lauwaert’s case to ensure he was not discriminated against by the Cambodian legal system.
Amid claims by family and friends of Lauwaert that the CWCC engineered his conviction, an e-mail was distributed on Thursday night by a group calling itself the Cambodian Prisoner Crisis Center alleging that police and CWCC Staff harassed a witness who retracted her testimony against Lauwaert.
The CPCC claimed in the email that the witness was on Thursday “locked in a cell and placed under fierce interrogation.”
“Villagers are now reportedly ‘extremely frightened’ and have requested outsiders visit the village to provide moral and legal support because they have retracted the original claims they say the CWCC forced them to make,” the email stated.
The CPCC claims to represent the families of Lauwaert, Clinton Betteridge, who was arrested in Australia for sex crimes allegedly committed in Cambodia, and New Zealander Graham Cleghorn, who was imprisoned on sex charges in Siem Reap.
Siem Reap Penal Police Chief Ou Em confirmed on Friday that he called witness Khoeun Savy, 18, to his office to ask questions about who brought the witnesses from Siem Reap to the appeal hearing on June 1.
“I wondered how they could rent a van, stay at a hotel and eat in restaurants. I believe the family of the suspect paid for them to travel to Phnom Penh,” Ou Em said.
Ou Em said he was happy that the original conviction was upheld and that the financial compensation had been dropped.
“The money made this case very complicated,” he said.
CWCC Executive Director Chanthol Oung, whose organization and investigative methods have been called into question regarding the Lauwaert conviction, claimed again that campaigners are actively trying to protect pedophiles.
Chanthol Oung also denied allegations that her organization had targeted foreigners.
“The allegation is groundless. We received thousands of complaints and I never mention whether they are foreign or local,” she said.
Commenting on Lauwaert’s 20-year sentence, Chanthol Oung said new Cambodian laws would be even harsher on sex offenders, whether foreign or local.
CWCC also worked on the case of a Siem Reap province man who was jailed for 20 years in January for raping a 13-year-old girl in 2005, she said.