Facing 3-Year Term, Keeler Says He Paid Bribe, Throws Tirade
takhmau district, Kandal province – A British headmaster who was found guilty of making pornographic videos of young girls went on a rampage after the verdict was announced Monday, throwing furniture as he told onlookers he paid a $5,400 bribe to be let free.
“Get out your gun and shoot me because I will not go back to that prison,“ John Keeler shouted. “Now I have no money to buy water and food. I can’t eat or drink [the food and beverages] in prison.”
Keeler, who was sentenced to three years in prison on debauchery charges, said he gave the money to his lawyer, Chhoy Phally, who then gave the money to her brother, who was supposed to give it to the judge.
“You lying b——,” he said to his lawyer in a meeting room after the trial. “You said I would go free today so I let the lies go. I refuse to go back to prison. I will kill myself first.”
Keeler, the 55-year-old headmaster of the London School for English in Phnom Penh, then broke a fan, threw tables and kicked a motorbike.
Military police scrambled to figure out what to do with Keeler. They asked if there was a gun in the room, concerned Keeler might have access to a weapon. One officer briefly drew a gun but reholstered it. After about 15 minutes, several officers forcibly dragged Keeler into a pickup truck and sped away.
Chhoy Phally said Keeler paid her at least $3,000, but that money was intended to help her prepare for the trial. She said she received the money before the mid-November Water Festival.
“I don’t mind his accusations because I know he has mental problems,” she said, adding she’s been Keeler’s lawyer since September. “But I never got a bribe, and I never promised he would go free.”
Keeler’s trial represents one of the few times a foreign national has faced prosecution under Cambodia’s sexual exploitation and human trafficking laws.
“Our hopes and efforts were fruitful,” said Mu Sochua, minister of Women’s and Veteran’s Affairs. ”My worries are over.”
Although the maximum sentence for Keeler is 20 years, judge Hy Sophea said he sentenced him to only three years because Keeler did not harm the girls and the videotape wasn’t sold.
“The defendant’s acts negatively affect Cambodian tradition,” the judge said during sentencing.
Hy Sophea also ordered Keeler to pay the victims’ families their requested $385 in compensation.
Keeler was arrested in August for taking pictures of four girls, between ages 8 and 10, at a park in Takhmau. Each pair of 8- and 10-year-olds are sisters.
Keeler admitted he filmed the girls and apologized to them, their families and the Cambodian people. “I would like to apologize for behaving so badly. I betrayed their trust,” he said in his statement to the court. “I did a bad thing.”
Chhoy Phally said her client is not sane, partly because he suffers from meningitis, and was not himself when he videotaped the girls. Keeler asked the court to release him so he can receive medical treatment.
The four girls testified Keeler had befriended them by giving them candy and money and they met him on numerous occasions.
Though Keeler acknowledged he videotaped the girls, but he denied giving them injections that made them easier to handle, to which the girls testified.
Before he went to prison, he said he knew only a handful of Cambodians. After three months, he said he has learned a bit more, which has “brought me closer to the Khmer people.”
Before the trial, prosecutor Chheng Phath said Keeler could serve his sentence in a British prison. But Ian Felton, deputy chief of mission at the British Embassy, said Cambodia and Britain do not have a formal prisoner transfer agreement and a special request would have to be made.
Keeler, who has two months to appeal the verdict, said the bribe money he had paid to be set free was kept at the British Embassy for safekeeping.
Felton said the embassy kept some money for Keeler as part of its job to look after his welfare and passed the money on to a private individual according to Keeler’s instructions.
“The money was not related to the judicial process. What the individual did with it is his or her own private business,” he said. “We look after the welfare of British citizens, but we don’t get involved in the judicial procedure.”
Hy Sophea also said he didn’t receive a bribe, noting that if he had accepted money from Keeler, he would have let Keeler go free or at least not sentenced him to prison. “I’ve always tried to avoid taking bribes since I entered the court system seven years ago,” he said. “My trials don’t involve money.”