An Australian adviser to the Cambodian Defenders Project, a legal aid organization, resigned Sunday after a New Zealand newspaper reported he was convicted on charges of pedophilia there eight years ago.
Stuart Coghill, 48, had been employed by the CDP as a legal adviser since 2000, after leaving the International Human Rights Law Group, where he worked from 1998. Coghill could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Coghill’s conviction was revealed in an article printed by New Zealand’s Dominion Post newspaper last week. The article was discovered by the Asia Foundation, which partially funds the CDP. The project’s managers were then notified about Coghill’s record by e-mail.
Sok Sam Oeun, CDP’s executive director, said Coghill admitted to the conviction. “I called him and asked him if it was true,” Sok Sam Oeun said. “He said he spent eight months on parole in New Zealand in 1995, after being convicted of committing an indecent act for lending a friend his video camera to film child sex.”
Coghill apologized for withholding the information and asked to resign, Sok Sam Oeun said.
In a statement released Monday, the Asia Foundation expressed strong distaste over Coghill’s history. “The Foundation was very disturbed to learn of past allegations against Mr Coghill…and commends CDP for its quick and appropriate response to this matter,” the statement said.
“We do not discriminate against him,” Sok Sam Oeun said. But he added that Coghill’s history made him an inappropriate employee in light of the project’s work to defend human rights.
No background check was conducted when Coghill joined the project, Sok Sam Oeun said, partly because he had a good employment record from IHRLA, the project’s parent organization.
Sok Sam Oeun also said he had not suspected anything about Coghill’s background.
“It is the Cambodian custom to always respect foreigners and think they are educated and have high moral standards,” Sok Sam Oeun said. “In future, we need to study more why they come to Cambodia.”