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Pedophile or extortion victim? Lines are blurred in Cambodia

A Cambodian court is asked to annul child sex charges against a Catholic teacher

Pedophile or extortion victim? Lines are blurred in Cambodia

Australian teacher Garry Mulroy (left) with his lawyer So Mosseny, who says they have a very good case since there is no evidence against the accused. (UCA News photo)

Cambodia has long been a haven for pedophiles. Its tragic past, deep poverty and law enforcement issues make it a magnet for the scourge and the NGOs who do their best for impoverished children and help to fend off the ugly advances of unwanted foreigners.

“But not always,” says the defense team for Garry Mulroy, an Australian teacher from a private Catholic school who has spent the past year behind bars in Siem Reap in the northeast.

An appeals court in Phnom Penh will decide on March 6 whether or not to drop charges against Mulroy, 64, who allegedly persuaded six poor boys to have sex with him in exchange for food and money. If convicted, he faces 15 years' imprisonment for soliciting children for prostitution.

What sets Mulroy’s defense apart from a conga line of sleazy offenders within Cambodia’s prison system is a report written by Ross Milosevic, an Australian-based risk management consultant.

Copies of the report alongside requests for help have been sent to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Home Minister Peter Dutton, the attorney-general and the head of the Australian federal police.

It followed a 10-month investigation that found the charges were a bid by police, NGOs, judiciary and government officials to extort money and to silence Mulroy’s charity in an NGO world mired in petty, competitive and sometimes corrupt politics.

“This is a common occurrence and practise in Cambodia within the judicial process that has provided a minority of government officials and corrupt defense lawyers to work hand in hand with an extra bonus or what I call reparations,” Milosevic said. 

A bench of three judges at the Phnom Penh Appeals Court will be asked to annul the charges based largely on the findings and the irregularities of his case.

In 2014, Mulroy, then a teacher at Lismore’s Trinity Catholic College in northern New South Wales, Australia, led a group of year-11 students to Siem Reap — home of the famed Angkor Wat complex — where they built houses for Cambodia’s poor. He left Trinity a year later and moved to Cambodia.

Milosevic said Mulroy then worked as a volunteer for Feeding Dreams Cambodia (FDC) and the Cambodian English School of Higher Education Organization.

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He resigned “after observing and acknowledging these two NGOs were not living up to their moral ethical and financial responsibilities,” the report said. 

Three months later, he established Education House, with the six boys he has been charged with molesting as his initial students.

Milosevic told UCA News that police interviews with the boys were not conducted with adult or parental supervision, or legal representation, and were made “under extreme duress, intimidation and extortion” — ensuring allegations against Mulroy would secure a conviction.

“These interviews were a clear violation of Cambodian and standard police procedures,” he said, adding this alone was grounds for the case to be annulled on March 6.

The report sent to the Australian prime minister includes a statutory declaration from an expatriate who spent time with the boys after Mulroy was arrested. That person’s name has not been released but a copy of the statutory declaration has been seen by UCA News.

"Each of the boys clearly stated that Garry had done nothing inappropriate to them,” the declaration said, adding five of the boys had also told that to police, with one exception.

The person in the declaration said a 13-year-old boy later told him he had “become very afraid and had agreed with the police so that they would stop questioning him.”

According to local press reports, Khoem Vando, a child protection specialist with Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE), has claimed Mulroy brought the boys, aged 11 to 14, to his home in the commune of Slorkram where he allegedly sexually abused them in November 2018.

Milosevic said APLE had issued press statements claiming they had monitored Mulroy’s activities but had not provided the police with any physical evidence.

According to the declaration, “APLE staff put pressure on the boys’ parents to sign a document agreeing that APLE would appoint a lawyer to represent the boys” after being told they would have to spend large sums of money on their own lawyer.

“I can honestly say these boys were never abused by the accused. The boys’ honesty and demeanor showed no attitude that they were ever mistreated or abused sexually in anyway,” it said.

The report said there was a close relationship between APLE, FDC and its director Kerry Huntley, and this was “extremely pertinent” in how the police came to know about Mulroy.

The letter to Morrison and senior ministers in Australia, signed by Joel Saye who holds power of attorney over Mulroy, was blunt.

“Garry's friends and supporters have been advised to prepare for the worst but hope for the best by his lawyer, simply as a result of the corruption that he faces within the Cambodian justice and law enforcement systems working together in a well-organized extortion ring within small-town Siem Reap,” it said.

Milosevic added that this includes innocent Cambodians “being targeted and arrested on fake set-up child sexual assault charges.”

In response, a letter from Payne’s office said the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh was monitoring Mulroy’s case and offering consular assistance.

“However, as you appreciate, the Australian government must respect the legal processes of another sovereign country and cannot intervene in its judicial processes,” she said.

Mulroy’s lawyer, So Mosseny, told UCA News he would challenge those irregularities during the appeals court hearing, including police interviews with the children.

Asked whether Morrison could help, he said: “It’s a million-dollar question. I’ll leave it up to the family of Mr. Mulroy … but I think we have a very good case. There is no evidence against him.”

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