Convicted sex offender Clint Betterridge, 31, who broke bail and fled to his home country in January, was denied bail in an Australian court Thursday morning after giving dramatic and controversial testimony the previous day, according to news reports.
Betterridge’s escape from Cambodia caused a mild flare-up between Phnom Penh and Canberra, as he had surrendered his passport to police upon being charged with debauchery, but was issued a replacement by the Australian Embassy after an appeals court granted him bail.
The two governments have since discussed Betterridge’s possible extradition arrangements, pending hearings in Australian courts.
Betterridge was sentenced to 10 years in prison. His co-conspirator “Lucky” Bart Lauwaert received a 20-year sentence. The two were charged with sexually abusing eight young women and girls they had employed as maids.
On Wednesday Betterridge gave an emotional testimony in which he claimed Australian Embassy officials had advised him to leave Cambodia while out on bail, The Associated Press reported.
“I told [the embassy officials] I couldn’t think and I needed them to think for me. I’d been tortured for five months so I couldn’t think,” AP quoted him saying.
“They said I should look into finding a way back to Australia and if I felt I was strong enough to make the journey to come back and see them and they would give me a passport.”
Australian Ambassador Louise Hand denied Betterridge’s claims Thursday. “Embassy officials did not encourage Mr Betterridge to leave Cambodia. They counseled against breaching his bail conditions and formally advised Cambodian authorities that he was being issued with a replacement passport,” she wrote in a statement faxed to the Cambodia Daily.
According to the AP, Betterridge’s tearful testimony also included accounts of gruesome and relentless torture during his five-month detention in Siem Reap prison. “I was on the brink of death the whole time,” he told the court.
He also said guards dropped centipedes and scorpion-like creatures down his trousers and shocked his skull, feet and testicles with electric batons in a bid to extort money from him. “It drove me crazy,” he said.
Hand responded to these reported claims: “I note that, during the course of their contact with him, Embassy officials offered to take up with Cambodian authorities, on his behalf, any issues regarding his conditions and treatment in prison. Mr Betterridge raised with Embassy officials concerns about some aspects of his treatment while in prison, but made no claim that he had been tortured. He asked that these concerns not be raised with the authorities.”
Hand declined to comment further on the matter, saying it would be inappropriate as the case is now before the Australian courts.
Naly Pilorge, director of human rights group Licadho, said Thursday that she had never heard of police using centipedes or other creatures as instruments of torture, “but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.”
According to The Australian daily newspaper, Betterridge’s attorney Chris Nyst urged the court to carefully consider his client’s rights. “I don’t think it’s good enough for the Australian government to simply rubber stamp these things for political purposes.”