Luke Hunt, Phnom Penh
Updated: October 13, 2020 03:21 AM GMT
Garry Mulroy says he was the victim of an extortion racket in Cambodia. (Photo: Luke Hunt/UCA News)
Catholic teacher Garry Mulroy has been freed from a Cambodian jail on appeal and has vowed to fight his conviction for indecently assaulting six children, claiming he was the victim of a racket to extort up to US$100,000.
He flew out of Phnom Penh for home in Australia over the weekend after spending a week in a safe house in the Cambodian capital.
“Those boys stood up in court and said they hadn’t touched me and I hadn’t touched them,” he said from the security of his safe house.
The prosecution never stated which of the boys were assaulted or how. And his release was shrouded in secrecy amid fears of reprisals.
He said police had wanted him to pay at least $60,000 to a lawyer of their choice, one NGO he had worked for had demanded $10,000 while a further $12,000 in cash he held at home in the northwest city of Siem Reap had disappeared.
His claims were backed by an independent report commissioned by his defense and undertaken by Australian risk management adviser Ross Milosevic. Copies were sent to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, members of his cabinet and the Australian Federal Police.
Mulroy, 64, was initially charged with engaging in child prostitution, which carries a 15-year term, but was acquitted after the NGO which made the allegation, Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE), dropped legal representation.
Police chief Col. Chea Heng of the Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Division in Siem Reap also failed to attend any of the hearings.
Instead Mulroy was found guilty of indecent assault and sentenced to two years behind bars where he shared a cell measuring five square meters with 22 to 30 inmates.
“At that trial I couldn’t believe judges were playing with their smartphones while I was giving evidence,” he said.
“It wasn’t until I was found guilty that it really hit home. Instead of fear, I really wanted to know what the hell was really going on,” he said, adding the judge was “so embarrassed” and “knew I wasn’t guilty. He muddled through as quick as he could and wanted me out of the room.”
Mulroy, a diabetic, spent most of his time searching for clean water.
“Tap water smelled like metal and if you had a sore and it got wet it would fizz up,” he said, adding prison water came from a well built in a rubbish dump. “It was incredibly hot. The floor was cleaned once a week. There were germs everywhere.”
Unhappy with both decisions, the prosecution appealed, insisting Mulroy was guilty. Mulroy’s defense also appealed to the provincial court in Battambang.
A full bench upheld the acquittal and stunned the prosecution with a sentence reduction on the lesser charge to one year plus one year suspended. Mulroy had already served 15 months behind bars, which he added was “horrible,” and was freed.
Milosevic’s report backed Mulroy’s claim and garnered widespread interest in Cambodia and in Australia. It said police interviews with the boys were not conducted with any adult supervision, nor were there any lawyers present.
It said any evidence garnered from the boys was made “under extreme duress, intimidation and extortion” which was designed to secure charges against Mulroy and were a bid by police, NGOs, judiciary and government officials to extort money.
“The charge of indecent assault is ridiculous because all the boys have said three times in the prosecutor interview, investigative judge interview and directly in court that they were never touched by Garry,” Milosevic said.
The report also detailed how Mulroy had upset two local NGOs responsible for child care and that he had raised concerns over the misallocation of donor money.
This resulted in sponsors, including corporates and small donors, withdrawing their support. He then initiated his own NGO, Education House, with six boys aged 11-14. Petty rivalries erupted between the NGOs and his arrest followed.
“So this was done to shut me up,” he said, adding he had stopped donations from reaching corrupt NGO workers. “If I had been guilty, I would have killed myself without hesitation.”
Cambodia’s justice system is ranked by the World Justice Project as “the worst civil justice system in the region.” It ranks second lowest on an index of 113 countries.
Additionally, Australia classifies Cambodia as a level four country, the lowest of rankings. Its online travel advice says: “If you travel to this location, you're at a high risk of death, imprisonment, kidnapping or serious injury.”
“Once someone says you’re a pedophile, it doesn’t matter what you say, you’re guilty and everything you’ve ever done in your life was for an evil reason — and not because it was an unrequited good deed. That’s what hurts. That was the most painful part of being in prison,” Mulroy said.
He said the six boys were going to school, learning to play guitar, box and how to cook amid a range of other activities designed to provide them with life skills.
“Those boys were like family to me. They were the sons I never had,” Mulroy said. “They were the biggest losers of this whole affair.”