An Australian man convicted in absentia of sex crimes has fled Cambodia after he was issued a new passport by the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh, the Australian newspaper The Age reported on Saturday.
Clinton Betterridge and “Lucky” Bart Lauwaert were sentenced to 10 and 20 years respectively in prison by the Siem Reap court for sexually abusing eight young women and girls employed as maids in their homes. The pair were also ordered to pay a total of $2,000 to each of their victims.
Betterridge was released on bail by the Appeals Court on Jan 8. At the time, court officials said that the crimes he stood accused of were not as severe as those of Lauwaert and that they lacked the evidence to hold him. He did not appear in court last Wednesday.
Officials at the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh declined to comment, but referred all queries to consular officials in Canberra, Australia, who could not be reached for comment.
Minister of Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua said Monday that she was aware of the circumstances behind Betterridge’s escape. “The ministry has always stated…using a foreigner’s passport as a guarantee for bail should not happen. They can get a new passport any time they want or they can slip across the border any time they want,” she said.
The Age reported that New South Wales police were looking for Betterridge, but lack the jurisdiction to arrest him.
An official from the Australian Joint-Transnational Crime Investigation Team in Cambodia said it would be difficult for Cambodian authorities to have Betterridge extradited because there is no extradition treaty between the two nations. He also said that due to “double jeopardy” laws, it is unlikely that Betterridge could be prosecuted in Australia.
Mu Sochua said she is scheduled to meet with Australian Ambassador Louise Hand today to receive clarification on the relevant laws. “I would like to know about their laws [regarding] extradition and the issuing of passports,” Mu Sochua said.