At least three men involved last year in an international passport scandal—including one pegged as a US intelligence operative—have been linked to a mysterious NGO planning to open its doors to fight sex tourism in Sihanoukville.
The men, connected to the “virtual” organization Global-PAC, were the subject of a row last year stemming from the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru, a notorious tax haven.
In an Australian court last year, Nauruan leadership accused the three, Jack Sanders, Steven Ray and Thomas Richards, of using the country as a covert base to sell passports and smuggle North Korean defectors. Nauru said at the time that the men promised them US aid money if they looked the other way from their spy operations, according to newspaper reports in Australia and New Zealand.
Sanders, a New Zealander who once worked for the now-shuttered Nauru Embassy in Beijing, was in Cambodia over the weekend, ostensibly making preparations to open Global-PAC.
Ray, based in Washington and once accused by Nauru of working as a US spy, was employed by the NGO to design their Web site.
And Richards is on the organization’s board of directors, in addition to working as a human rights lawyer in Canada, according to Gerald Thorns, executive director of Global-PAC.
The group, which has no home office, claims to specialize in surveillance and operate in Burma, China and other Asian countries, but NGOs working in child advocacy in Phnom Penh and many foreign diplomats say they have never heard of Global-PAC.
“They sort of came out of nowhere,” said British Ambassador Stephen Bridges. He said the men questioned him a few months ago about the issue of children’s sexual exploitation in Cambodia.
Thorns, who was in Sihanoukville Tuesday, could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Contacted by e-mail and later by phone, Ray said he designed the Web site but had no business connections to the NGO and did not know Thorns. He refused to answer any more questions.
Despite the questions swirling around the group, Interior Ministry officials contacted Wednesday were not alarmed. Un Sokunthea, head of the ministry’s anti-trafficking unit, said she did not know about the group.
Thong Lim, the national police brigadier general who greeted Sanders and Thorns at Phnom Penh International Airport last week, said they will be helpful to anti-trafficking efforts.
“I think it’s great…. The department is new and does not have enough human resources or equipment,” he said.