siem reap – The two Australian men arrested here last week and charged with debauchery for allegedly having sex with young girls denied the charges in separate interviews in Siem Reap provincial prison Saturday.
Accused sex offenders Clint Rex Betterridge and Bart “Lucky” Lauwaert gave accounts of their recent arrests that contradicted the testimonies of their alleged victims, and, at times, contradicted each other.
The two men even have differing views on the nature of prison life, with Betterridge complaining of hunger and Lauwaert comparing life in jail to a “holiday camp.”
Lauwaert, 36, and Betterridge, 35, were taken into custody in separate arrests at their homes on Aug 2 and Aug 3, respectively, Siem Reap Penal Police Chief Ou Em said. They are accused of having sexual relations with three young girls, aged 12 to 14.
The girls were hired by Lauwaert to clean his house and were coerced into having sexual relations with him after he threatened to terminate their employment, Ou Em said. Betterridge used the same tactics to force himself on his employees, Ou Em said.
Ou Em said an investigation had been under way since late June, but the arrests were made only after the three young women filed complaints on July 31.
But Betterridge was adamant Saturday that he was implicated only because of his association with Lauwaert. Lauwaert, for his part, seemed unfazed as he denied all charges against him.
“It was [Lauwaert] that was involved,” Betterridge said in the visiting area of the prison complex. “He stayed at my house for a week. He said, ‘Can I hire the girls [to clean the house]?’ And I agreed. Then I realized that more than [cleaning] was happening. So I kicked him out. He is a sick man. He ruined my life. I was suppose to get married in two weeks to the most beautiful girl in Cambodia. Now that is over.”
Lauwaert flatly denied all charges levied against him: “I treated them extremely well, gave them food, clothing and money to their families. I was teaching them English,” he said. “When I met them, they were eating rats.”
“In my belief,” he continued, “the girls were pressured by the NGOs and the police to file a complaint. They worked for me for about four months without any problem whatsoever and I never forced them to do anything. I did not have sexual relations with those girls.”
Lauwaert suggested his arrest may have stemmed from a dispute with a neighbor over a water pump. He said the neighbor called the police and had him arrested on the sex abuse charges.
Ou Em confirmed his office received tips on the two men from neighbors and that the girls did not file complaints until two days after they were first interviewed on July 31. Ou Em said there may be as many as nine alleged victims in total—although only the three have so far filed official complaints.
Chum Soputhy, chief general administrative officer for the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, said there are 10 alleged victims staying at their center in Siem Reap. Three of them, she said, are aged 13, 14 and 15 and had sex with Lauwaert and another four, aged 10, 11, 12 and 17 say they were forced to have oral sex with Lauwaert. The remaining three, aged 16 to 18 also say they were coerced into oral sex with Betterridge, Chum Soputhy said.
Chum Soputhy said the girls will remain under CWCC’s care as the police investigation continues.
The two men met in March and shared a residence briefly in April, said Betterridge. “He had these girls in his house before we lived together and after,” he said. “He is a sick pedophile.”
Innocent or guilty, Lauwaert still seems concerned with the girls. “They are very nice girls. Are they OK? Smiling? Happy? Do they miss me?”
One alleged victim, aged 15, said she lived with “Lucky” for three months. Her family pressured her to work for him, she said. She washed his clothes, cleaned the house and said she always worked very hard.
Soon after she was employed, the young woman said Lucky started playing pornographic VCDs. “He called all the other girls [in the house] to watch. He ordered me to have sex with him following sex books and if I shouted for help he would close my mouth with his hand,” she said.
Evidence confiscated from Lauwaert’s residence by police included pornographic VCDs and such illustrated books as “Healing Love Through the Tao: Cultivating Female Sexual Energy.”
Also confiscated from Lauwaert were several other books, a TV, pornographic VCDs—which Lauwaert said are not illegal—sexual accouterments, and 10 grams of cooking oil. Marijuana paraphernalia was also taken from Betterridge’s residence.
The 15 year-old girl said Lauwaert gave her food laced with some sort of intoxicant. “Sometimes I can’t remember what happened to me,” she said. Two other alleged victims said they were also drugged by Betterridge.
Lauwaert said this was “a total lie.” Betterridge also vehemently denied this.
“Come on, that is a joke. I never ever forced them to eat anything. The police did not find any trace of any drugs in my house. This is some way of giving an excuse for [the girls’] own behavior,” Lauwaert said.
Betterridge agreed the girls were coerced by Lauwaert, but not with intoxicants. “There was no drugging,” he said. Lauwaert “influenced them with money, the girls’ families beat them and raped them and Bart looked after them. They liked it there.”
Another 18 year-old woman who worked as a maid for Betterridge said coercion with money was Betterridge’s tactic also. She said she earned 6,000 riel per day cleaning his house, but was also forced to have oral sex with him.
“He threatened me to stop my work if I told anyone about his actions with the girls,” she said. “I was afraid to lose money, so I never told anyone about this. At first, I thought that he was a good man who gives work to small girls, but in fact he is a deeply bad man.”
Another 17 year-old former maid told a similar story.
Ou Em said that “some of the girls are so young that they don’t know about sex. The girls live in poverty and have no education. This was the only way for them to earn money and they will dare to do anything.”
The sex was consensual, said the police chief. “But some of the victims are under age so this is still debauchery.” Under the debauchery law, the age of consent is 15. Debauchery carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison.
In July, Italian national Alain Berruti was convicted of debauchery and sentenced to 10 years behind bars for having sexual relations with four young boys. Previously, the strictest sentence handed down for debauchery to a Western offender was given to Briton John Keeler, who is currently serving a three-year sentence in 2000 for making indecent videos of young girls.
Neither of the Australian men who were arrested last week said they have a lawyer yet. Betterridge said he has one in mind, and Lauwaert said he is waiting for the court to appoint one for him.
Australian Embassy officials in Phnom Penh declined comment on Sunday. But the Australian daily newspaper, The Age, reported on Aug 7 that consular officials were expected to travel from Phnom Penh to visit the men. Both suspects said Saturday that no officials had visited them.
The Age also reported that Australian Federal Police have been asked to investigate whether the suspects should be charged with sex crimes under Australian laws as well.
Meanwhile, the two suspects will stay in the prison, waiting for their next court appearance, which could take as long as four to six months as police complete their investigation.
To Lauwaert, prison life is like a “holiday camp,” where the food is “reasonable.”
But for Betterridge, life in jail is not so pleasant.
“I have had no food,” he said. “I have been sharing food with other prisoners. I need food. I am hungry.”
Despite their differences, though, the two men say they are getting along well in prison. “We have to get along,” Betterridge said.
And by Lauwaert’s account their relationship has improved: “He doesn’t want to kill me any more,” he said.
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