A former Australian police officer, who was extradited from Cambodia in 2007 to face allegations of corruption in Australia, is back in Phnom Penh and working with the Child Protection Unit (CPU) of a local NGO, according to the organization’s executive director.
James McCabe, who served in the police force for 15 years and at one point was an officer in Cambodia for the Australian Crime Commission, is running the Cambodian Children’s Fund’s (CCF) newly formed protection unit, which conducts investigations into rights abuses against children, said Scott Neeson, CCF’s executive director, during an interview at his organization’s offices in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district Wednesday.
“He [Mr. McCabe] has helped set up the CPU but he is not a CCF employee, he is a consultant,” Mr. Neeson said.
“There are about 12 people in the unit, under James and [fellow former Australian police officer] Alan [Lemon]. We are still running it very confidentially until we get it fine-tuned,” he said.
In June 2008, Mr. McCabe stood trial in Sydney District Court on armed robbery and drug charges related to a 2002 drug deal that he and his police partner set up and then busted, making away with a reported $120,000 worth of methamphetamine, the Sydney Morning Herald reported at the time.
Mr. McCabe later pleaded guilty to stealing methamphetamine from a drug trafficker during the fake police operation and spent roughly two years in jail in Australia.
Mr. Neeson, whose NGO cares for more than 1,800 students in Cambodia, said he had no reservations about hiring a convicted former police officer.
“I knew him before any of this [the allegations] came out…I was unaware about his history but he was very transparent with me and he went back to Australia to face the music,” Mr. Neeson said, referring to Mr. McCabe’s extradition back to Australia after he was arrested by Cambodian police in Phnom Penh on June 22, 2007, at the request of the Australian Embassy.
“There’s not many people you would be happy to turn your back on here and feel safe but [Mr. McCabe] is one of them,” Mr. Neeson continued. “I trust him emphatically.”
Mr. Neeson, who before founding CCF in 2003 was the head of 20th Century Fox International in Hollywood, also said that all of the organization’s donors, sponsors and board members are aware of Mr. McCabe’s position, and his checkered history.
“Absolutely. Everyone [knows about Mr. McCabe’s role with the CPU and his past],” he said, adding that Mr. McCabe returned to Cambodia at the beginning of the year.
“We have people on our board—including John Pascoe, the chief federal magistrate in Australia, and John Geden of the British child exploitation police—who are very serious people…they all know about Jim [McCabe]. They’ve all met…. There’s no secret.”
In 2002, while working for the Australian Crime Commission, Mr. McCabe was deployed to Cambodia to work on anti-drug trafficking operations. It was then that he gained the contacts that Mr. Neeson says make him key to the establishment of the CPU.
“We want to get the best people who are capable of infiltrating what is a pretty horrendous aspect of crime here,” Mr. Neeson said in reference to crimes carried out against children. “[Mr. McCabe] is the best person to work with the Cambodian National Police to get cooperation and provide the right ‘ins’ in the right places,” he said, adding that the CPU was currently working “very closely with the Interior Ministry.”
However, Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said Wednesday that he had “not heard of” Mr. McCabe or the CCF’s protection unit.
Keo Thea, Phnom Penh AntiHuman Trafficking police chief, also said his department had not worked with Mr. McCabe.
“I have heard of [Mr. McCabe’s] name but I haven’t worked with him.”
Reached by telephone Wednesday, Mr. McCabe declined to comment on his role inside CCF and referred questions to his superior, who he declined to name.
“Do what you have to do, just do it within the law,” Mr. McCabe said.
(Additional reporting by Khy Sovuthy)