Trailed by a storm of controversy, a crew of men who planned to open an NGO to combat sex tourism in Cambodia appear to have left the country this week without a trace.
Global-PAC, a mysterious NGO led by a handful of men implicated in a diplomatic scandal last year between the US and the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru, has no central office to contact, and repeated phone calls to its executive director, Gerald Thorns, failed to connect Wednesday.
The group arrived earlier this month and touted plans to conduct high-tech surveillance on foreign pedophiles in Sihanoukville, but has since fallen out of contact with the Interior Ministry’s anti-trafficking unit.
“They are like lightning. They come and they go,” said Sok Rasmey, an assistant to Un Sokunthea, chief of the Interior Ministry’s anti-trafficking unit.
Three men connected to the NGO—New Zealander Jack Sanders, US citizen Steven Ray and Canadian Thomas Richards—were at the center of an international scandal last year, in which the Nauruan government accused them of hijacking the country’s foreign policy in a covert operation, serving US interests, to smuggle North Korean defectors.
Those accusations were detailed in court documents in Melbourne, Australia, and in Australian and New Zealand media reports, but Thorns said by phone Tuesday that they shouldn’t affect the group’s current enterprise.
“I’ve read those reports. Hard to make sense of them,” Thorns said.
Thorns traveled to Sihanoukville this week to scout property for a Global-PAC branch and meet government authorities there.
“He only said he wanted to set up a center for orphans and came here to conduct a survey first,” said Sihanoukville First Deputy Governor Chhun Sirun, who met with Thorns earlier this week.
Sanders left Cambodia earlier this week, purportedly to attend a conference in Hong Kong. Ray said this week from Washington that he was the NGO’s Web site designer and has not been in Cambodia.
Richards, a human rights lawyer, is on the NGO’s board of directors, Thorns said, and also did not travel to Cambodia.
The “virtual“ NGO says it is based in Beijing, but keeps no headquarters in order to avoid overhead.
Its Web site is registered at an address in Washington that is the former office of attorney Mark Zaid, who specializes in cases involving intelligence operatives.
Zaid, contacted by e-mail this week, said another law firm now occupies the office and that he does not know of Global-PAC.