American missionary Daniel Johnson, who was arrested on Monday for child sex crimes committed in the U.S., will appear at Phnom Penh Municipal Court today to be charged with raping five underage Cambodian boys at a local orphanage, anti-human trafficking police said.
The alleged abuse occurred at the Home of Hope orphanage in Meanchey district’s Boeng Tampun commune, one of a number of projects in Cambodia run by the suspect’s evangelical Christian organization Hope Transitions.
The initial operation was led by the U.S.’ FBI but the subsequent revelations by the children living with him at the orphanage broadened the scope and complexity of the investigation, said Pol Pithey, director of the Ministry of Interior’s anti-human trafficking police department.
“[On Wednesday] we were searching the suspect’s property for evidence, but this case is very complicated and involves many people,” he said, adding that interviews with the children on Monday initially revealed three victims but further questioning saw the number of victims rise to five.
Yi Moden, deputy director of field operations for Action pour les Enfants (APLE), which helped track down Johnson and assisted Cambodian authorities with interviews at the orphanage, said Wednesday that all 29 children had now been relocated to safe care environments.
“The five victims have been moved into the care of Hagar [International Cambodia], while the remaining 24 children from Hope Transitions have been placed with Aspeca [a French NGO with a number of orphanages in Cambodia],” he said.
The investigation has revealed that Hope Transitions orphanage was also operating without a license from the government, which Mr. Moden said emphasizes the need for better governmental oversight of childcare facilities in Cambodia.
“We only came to know about [Johnson] because of the FBI investigation, but we discovered that it was not registered and that he lived at the orphanage with the children with absolutely no guidelines being followed, no child protection, nothing,” Mr. Moden said, adding that APLE is currently investigating a number of other organizations with staff suspected of abusing children in their care.
Hope Transitions also operates projects in Prey Veng and Kampot and the next phase of the case is to investigate the full scale of Johnson’s network in Cambodia, Mr. Moden said.
According to Pastor Sinai Phoeuk, the director of government-registered Christian NGO New Hope for Orphans for which Johnson acted as a voluntary adviser to the board up until three years ago, said the suspect has been resident in Cambodia for 10 years.
“We are very surprised because he has helped many projects in Cambodia and helped many poor people here,” he said.
Mr. Phoeuk, who has been assisting police in their investigation, said he could not say too much about the case because the investigation involving the FBI was ongoing. He also said that as far as he was aware, Johnson had been in the process of registering Hope Transitions, and that he had acquired two licenses for churches in the provinces.
“Personally, I do not believe he did anything to the children. I have known him for nine years and he is a gentleman. Journalists should not write that he has done these things because right now it has not been proved,” the pastor said.