Four on Sex Charges Blast APLE in Letter to PM

Four foreigners charged with child sex offences have sent a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen accusing anti-pedophile NGO Action Pour Les Enfants of malpractice.

The letter, dated Nov 1, levels a number of allegations at APLE, including detaining victims and falsification of evidence.

“APLE and partner organizations target innocent people and fabricate evidence,” it reads.

“APLE and partner organizations take witnesses and alleged victims into custody and confines them, sometimes for months or years, against their will.”

The letter is cosigned by four foreign nationals charged with having sex with underage girls, one of whom is serving a 20-year sentence for raping five girls aged from 14 to 19.

Seila Samleang, APLE Country Director, said yesterday the accusations were entirely unfounded and were an attempt by the men to manipulate public opinion to their advantage.

“These offenders never accept it’s their fault and take responsibility but blame others who condemn them,” he said. “They are trying to use all possible ways to escape the legal accountability through judicial system. They think the world will believe them.”

“It would be impossible for us to fabricate evidence; it is always collected by Cambodian National Police. We only provide information of our suspicions,” he added.

Mr Samleang said that accusations of detaining victims had been a problem for NGOs dealing with victim aftercare, but emphasized this did not fall within APLE’s remit.

Mr Samleang said that in many cases, the victim’s families had been partly or wholly responsible for selling them for sex and in these situations the NGOs did not want to send them back to a potentially dangerous situation. The family might also intend to persuade their children to change their testimony, under pressure from the supporters of the offender, he said.

“Then the family will complain about illegal detention. It is a technique used by pedophiles to alter testimony and get charges dropped.”

Khieu Sopheak, spokesman of the Ministry of the Interior, said he had not heard anything about the letter but he thought that sometimes NGOs did keep victims without proper documentation from the government in order to increase income from donors.

“They have to say: ‘We have so many victims under my care,’ to get money from their donors,” he said. “This is why we are creating an NGO law.”

Shawn Kohl, deputy director of International Justice Mission’s Cambodia Office, defended APLE, saying that accusations of illegal detentions were becoming a serious problem for the NGO community.

“We see parents who may be complicit in the buying and selling of their own children making false claims of illegal detention. In some cases, the family members coerce children to change their statements once they are back in the parents’ custody.”

Furthermore, Mr Kohl said it did not seem plausible that APLE could force the police to investigate, the prosecutor to issue a warrant and the court system to convict people.

“The implication of the allegations in the letter seems to be an accusation of the complete breakdown of the judiciary, which I would imagine is offensive to the Ministry of Justice.”

Bith Kimhong, director of the anti-human trafficking department for the Interior Ministry, said that he did not know about the letter, but that APLE always cooperated fully with the police. He added that collecting evidence was the police’s responsibility, not APLE’s.

“We would never arrest a suspect if we had not collected enough evidence,” he said.

Lim Leang Se, director of the Prime Minster’s cabinet, could not be reached yesterday.

Three of the men who sent the letter are awaiting trial or verdict.

Briton Michael Leach, 50, was arrested in September in Kandal province and charged with paying to have sex with three girls aged 11 to 16. Mr Leach was previously briefly detained on suspicion of abusing girls in a Phnom Penh orphanage in 2005 while posing as a doctor.

In September, Phnom Penh Municipal Court tried 53-year-old Michael Lines, from New Zealand, on charges of buying two underage prostitutes in 2007.

Matthew John Harland, a 36-year-old British computer engineer, is charged with purchasing sex from three girls under 15. His trial was delayed in October after he asked the court to investigate a clerk for accepting a $15,000 bribe he paid with the promise he would receive a lighter sentence. Mr Harland had fled the UK while on bail in 2005 after facing child pornography charges. His trial is set for Friday.

Convicted rapist Mr Cleghorn appeared in court on separate charges of defamation and disinformation on Monday, which stem from his repeated accusations that another NGO, the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, paid his victims $10,000 each to testify against him.


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