Nicholas Griffin, the British director of the Cambodia Orphan Fund orphanage in Siem Reap province, was arrested last week and charged Friday with indecent acts against one of his wards, a minor under 15 years old, police said yesterday.
Police said the arrest resulted from an investigation that involved the UK Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center and the anti-pedophile NGO Action Pour Les Enfants. The charge carries a maximum prison sentence of three years and fines of up to $1,500.
Sun Bunthorng, chief of the provincial anti-human trafficking bureau, said Chan Reaksmey, a Cambodian working for the orphanage, was arrested along with his boss and charged on Friday with the unlawful removal of a minor for allegedly placing children under the care of the unlicensed NGO.
“Now we are conducting more investigations into this case,” said Mr Bunthorng.
Mr Griffin, 52, is at least the third Briton arrested this year on suspicion of child sexual abuse in Cambodia who has also been accused of misconduct while providing child care.
Provincial prosecutor Ty Sovinthal said yesterday that Mr Griffin was being detained in provincial prison during the investigation but declined to say if Mr Griffin’s case involved more than one alleged victim.
“CEOP is currently supporting colleagues in the Cambodian National Police with an investigation into allegations of institutional abuse within an orphanage,” CEOP’s Chief Executive Jim Gamble said in the statement.
In an interview with British broadcaster Sky News on Friday, CEOP Investigator Andy Wells said that a new high-walled, gated facility where Mr Griffin had moved the Cambodian Orphanage Fund children on the same day as his arrest was reason for heightened concern because “it looks like a prison.”
“We are working to help the police and making arrangements to move the Cambodia Orphan Fund forward,” COF Director Lidia Linde said yesterday, adding that her organization was working in collaboration with law enforcement to protect the children and allow them to report abuse.
Former employees and donors said that the surprise of Mr Griffin’s arrest had thrown the organization into confusion. John Palfrey, a COF donor and a member of the organization’s board of directors, said yesterday that when CEOP contacted him last week to tell him that Mr Griffin was under investigation, he was absolutely horrified.
“The main thing now for us has to be making sure the Nick is held fully accountable under the law,” he said by telephone from his home in Sussex, England.
Sarath Chea and Doeur Bunhorn, COF’s second director and education program director, said yesterday that they had never seen Mr Griffin behave inappropriately toward children.
“Maybe it happened when I was away from teaching,” said Mr Bunhorn.
The lack of any screening of foreign NGO workers or volunteers given responsibility for Cambodian children puts those children at tremendous risk, according to Steve Morrish, executive director of the anti-trafficking and exploitation NGO Sisha.
“It is far too easy for foreign nationals to come to work with children whether or not they have criminal records and regardless of their intentions,” said Mr Morrish.
He added that Sisha was putting together a proposal that Cambodia implement a “Work with Children” card system, similar to Australia’s, under which anyone supervising children must undergo a rigorous background check.
“The important thing is that we have laws in place and we are enforcing laws,” Interior Ministry Spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said yesterday when asked if the police would consider a program similar to the one Sisha proposes.
Police in Kandal province in September also arrested 50-year-old British national Michael Leach, who was later charged with purchasing sex with children aged 11 to 16. Mr Leach in 2005 was briefly detained on suspicion of sexually abusing children while posing as a doctor at an orphanage but was released, apparently at the request of the orphanage owner.
David Fletcher, a Briton convicted of statutory rape in the UK, ran an NGO that helped feed children in Phnom Penh’s Stung Meanchey dumps for several years until he was exposed by the British press in June. He then fled to Thailand, where he was arrested for failing to disclose his criminal record to immigration officials.