New Zealand media has dubbed him the “international man of mystery,” and Jack Sanders has now brought his constant companions—intrigue and controversy—to Phnom Penh.
Since his presence in Cambodia was publicized last week, events and information around Sanders’ new NGO, Global-Protect All Children, have delved deeper and deeper into the bizarre.
New Zealand police have said they are seeking Sanders but will not say why. Local NGOs and police are puzzling over the group’s motives, and journalists here and abroad are wrestling with an avalanche of obscure leads, tips and allegations that include espionage, pedophile rings, passports and computer surveillance.
For now, the controversy surrounding Sanders and the role he played last year in a diplomatic scandal involving the tiny Pacific island of Nauru has apparently pushed the group out of Cambodia. According to detailed reports in Australian and New Zealand newspapers, the Nauruan government last year accused Sanders and US citizen Steven Ray of working as spies to convince the government to close down its off-shore banks and clamp down on the sale of Nauruan passports.
Renewed publicity of that scandal has prompted Global-PAC to take a different route to establishing a branch in Sihanoukville, where the group proposed to conduct computer surveillance of foreign pedophiles.
Gerald Thorns, Global-PAC executive director, wrote by e-mail Friday that he has left Cambodia, and that he will outline Sanders’ and his own professional histories and submit the NGO’s plans to high-level officials in the Interior Ministry through a Cambodian embassy abroad.
Meanwhile, a New Zealand detective at the embassy in Bangkok is making inquiries about the group. “I am very curious as to what they may be doing there,” Detective Mike Bush said over the weekend.
Dogged by questions, Global-PAC has left Cambodia much as it left Hong Kong in recent weeks. Thorns and Sanders were scheduled to give a talk at the Foreign Correspondents Club there on May 10, but the event was canceled after FCC board members got unsatisfactory replies about the group’s origins and credentials, Ilaria Maria Sala of the Hong Kong FCC wrote by e-mail.
“The whole board of governors decided to cancel the talk, after the lack of bona fide [proof of the NGO’s activities] and the pressurizing and bullying tactics employed, by e-mail, by Sanders and Thorns,” Sala wrote over theweekend.
The FCC was also put off by Global-PAC’s Web site, which contains pictures of half-naked young girls and sensational text about pedophilia and child pornography, but no information about the group’s funding or how it operates. It includes an e-mail address for inquiries and donations.
The same Web site alarmed human rights group Licadho, which last week cast aspersions on the NGO’s motives and its record in Asia, wondering how it had slipped under the radar of major child advocacy groups in the region. By the end of last week, NGOs in Sihanoukville such as M’lup Tapang said they were avoiding Global-PAC.
Though insisting that he prefers a low profile, Sanders entered Cambodia’s public eye earlier this month by speaking to reporters about his plans to open an NGO in Sihanoukville.
Sanders helped establish the Nauruan Embassy in Beijing in that led to the ensuing scandal. The New Zealander, who has been photographed with high-profile politicians such as Bill and Hillary Clinton, ran for parliament in his home country under the name Jack Stubbs in 1990, according to several media reports.
Further muddling the picture around Global-PAC is its links to Ray, who is registered as the administrator of the group’s Web site, but claims no further relationship to its work.
Ray, a radio engineer who works for an radio station in Washington, once acted as Nauru’s representative in Washington, and was later accused by the Nauru government of working as a US spy. Global-PAC, which claims to be based in Guangzhou, China, but has no main office, is one of many enterprises involving Thorns, who claimed to be linked to a slew of other companies, including Giant Cigar, Cosmos Immigration Consultant Group, Primus International Co, and others.
Despite myriad questions about Global-PAC, Sanders and Thorns say the controversy will die down and they hope to start work here soon. Sanders was in Cambodia as early as two months ago, when he began advertising Global-PAC in the Sihanoukvillle Visitors’ Guide.
Thorns wrote by e-mail that Sanders then sought out an information technology guru to install a code on computers in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville hotels that would enable the group to monitor sex tourists who might log into chat rooms and message boards.
Sanders wrote in an e-mail last week that the group is already “looking closely at diplomats, aid workers and in some areas military people” suspected of working in child-trafficking rings throughout Asia.
Yet there is no indication that anti-trafficking police are aware of those efforts, and the group’s relationship with police remains unclear.
Thorns said the group promised to donate surveillance equipment to national police.
He says the group’s chief Cambodian police liaison is Thong Lim, deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s central justice police department. However neither Thong Lim nor Un Sokunthea, head of the anti-trafficking unit, say they have much knowledge of the group.
“They told me they want to start an orphanage and help street children in Sihanoukville,” Thong Lim said last week. He could not provide further details.
Sihanoukville municipal officials and police also they have little information about the group, saying they have only had informal meetings with Thorns about setting up an office.