The French aid organization APLE (Action Pour Les Enfants) is alleged to have brought hundreds of people to court in Cambodia by manipulating evidence and witnesses ultimately resulting in innocent people going to prison for a long time. Has the APLE founder, Thierry Darnaudet, been funded through donations generated by the abuse and trafficking of children ?
The temple is the quietest place here. People sit in small groups in front of the large golden Buddha. The men here are not monks wearing orange, they are prisoners wearing red. These are the prison clothes of Prey Sar, the infamous maximum security prison about 20km outside of Phnom Penh. Around 3,500 prisoners are detained here including 100 foreigners.
We sit together with Hang Vibol, a friendly looking Cambodian. His features vary between composure and anger. For four months now, Vibol has been detained in custody in Prey Sar on suspicion of sexually abusing children in his care. In 1994, he founded the aid organisation “Protect” in Cambodia. He then met Frenchman Thierry Darnaudet and co-founded APLE with him in 2003 with headquarters in France.
The APLE acronym stands for “Action Pour Les Enfants” (Action for Children). The APLE Mission: to protect children from sexual abuse. These are honourable goals indeed. Vibol founded ‘Our Home Orphanage’, a home for street children. Thierry organised the fundraising and found numerous sponsors including “Brot für die Welt”, USAid, “Global Humanitaria”, “Terres des Hommes” and many more.
Thierry Darnaudet knows how to promote himself to the media. Soon, APLE became a child abuse powerhouse sitting on the Human Anti-Trafficking Advisory Panel in Cambodia. Thierry Darnaudet quickly became a cult figure in the child protection world as a result of his successes in Cambodia which was considered a Child Molester’s paradise. Numerous volunteers from many countries followed him to fight against this widespread child abuse. The reality is actually very different. In 2013, for instance, there were about 2,000 child abuse cases in England with only about 200 similar cases in Cambodia.
The country is still suffering from the consequences of the Pol Pot regime. Massacred, impoverished, and now exploited by sexual predators, this continued abuse simply makes APLE seem credible, essential and necessary. So good in fact that, in 2007, Thierry spread APLE’s wings by founding the ACTT (All Children Together Trust) in Kolkata, India. However, it was not long before that he was confronted with abuse allegations there.
The sister of a young boy had been watching the sexual abuse of her brother who eventually testified accordingly. Thierry nearly beat him to death. The boy was hospitalized with serious injuries. It was not the first time that Thierry Darnaudet had been accused of child abuse in India. Adriana, an Australian volunteer had caught Thierry five times having sex with young children. He bribed Indian officials with large sums of money to buy the authorities silence. These bribes were paid from APLE donations from Cambodia.
On another occasion, Vibol caught Thierry red-handed as he abused the young boy named Pen Dom in the office of “Our Home Orphanage” in Phnom Penh. This brought everything to a head again and Vibol filed more charges against Thierry. But how can there be an investigation when Thierry controls the investigating authority? Between the Ministry of Interior in Cambodia and APLE there is a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ that allows APLE employees to investigate suspects for the “Anti-Human Trafficking Police” as though APLE is the police. An NGO is operating as the police?
Apart from the lack of a legal basis for this unofficial policing, what qualifies APLE volunteers to operate in this way? They were, after all, unable to recognize the systematic abuses perpetrated by its own founder.
Is this the modern Jimmy Savile scandal?
The actual abused child is easy to find. The teenager, Pen Dom, hangs around at the Riverside in Phnom Penh today. Riverside is the place of choice where the volunteer ‘APLE Police’ secretly photograph male suspects who are in contact with children. As 56% of the population are minors, this contact can hardly be avoided. For the over zealous anti-peadophile hunting volunteer ‘APLE Police’, who are predominantly women that have travelled from Europe and Australia, photographing these hapless souls is a kind of sport, except with real victims. In fact, it is just like big game hunting as they try to ‘bring down’ a paedophile pig regardless of the facts that actually have no legal merit or place in court. Do they know what they are actually doing?
Vibol’s English is broken but understandable. Again and again he sinks into thought. He is tormented by the guilt of having reacted too late. Now he wants to unload the full truth. For two years Vibol was the Country Director of APLE so he knows the structure and the system to the last detail. Perhaps the first time he realised the significance and error was when he accompanied two child witnesses to Australia who were to testify in a trial against the Australian ex-ambassador, John Holloway, who had made himself unpopular by criticising the Cambodian government at the time. Suddenly, he saw himself exposed to child abuse allegations.
Among 15 selected photos the two boys pointed to the ambassador’s photo. His life was henceforth ruined. On their return flight after the trial in Australia, at which incidentally the children were completely discredited as viable witnesses, the children suddenly declared that they did not know the ambassador after all. They only liked flying to Australia.
APLE’s main sponsor is the Spanish-American organisation “Global Humanitaria”, The donations from sponsors are performance oriented states Vibol. The more convictions achieved, the larger the donations. How might this be lawful or ethical in one of the most corrupt countries in the world? It is alleged that APLE manipulate the evidence with money, with threats, with blank signed statements. One doctor acting for APLE had attested to the court that one girl had lost her virginity three times in separate cases. Numerous children have used the same framework of written statements and vocabulary. Astonishingly, many children are detained against their and their parents will in closed sheltered facilities and subjected to brainwashing says Vibol. The fact that this is all illegal seems unimportant as nobody cares. APLE do what they want.
At the end of 2013, Vibol had experienced enough. He complained to the Ministry of Interior about APLE’s machinations and distanced himself from the organization. Shortly afterwards, he himself was reported to the police. Vibol, it was alleged, had indecently touched the children in ‘Our Home Orphanage’ while in the shower according to APLE. However, since his arrest, the children have retracted their statements but Vibol is still in prison. Anyone who criticizes APLE immediately has abuse allegations made against them. Vibol was not the first.
Zippy (died 12/2018 due to torture in Prey Sar) is sitting in our group. He is a skinny Australian male with white hair and a beard. Around 60, his body is emaciated and haggard from the rigours of prison conditions after four long years. He lives with 75 other people in a 120 square metre cell where the heat frequently rises to 38 degrees. Prisoners sleep on a stone floor, food and drink must be purchased and the hygienic conditions are catastrophic. APLE claims to have established the abuse of the daughter of his cleaner by Zippy. However, four prosecutors involved in the case have scrutinised the evidence and have called for the termination of the proceedings against him. Unbelievably, the judges sentenced him to eight years. Why did they do that?
‘APLE pay the court judges to sentence foreigners’ explains Vibol. This produces convictions and, therefore, increased donations. Hundreds of foreigners have been detained over the years. Some committed suicide, others starve or suffer miserably from infectious diseases and almost all of them are traumatized for life. Undoubtedly, among them are also real culprits but technically nobody is guilty. Guilt may only be reasonably established and lawfully determined by a fair trial within a functioning legal system with proper due process. Unfortunately, the Cambodian judiciary has the charm of a Mexican drug cartel. It applies the law of dollar notes.
Many investors and their businesses have been devastated by the long prison ordeals.
This lack of legal security obviously discourages investors. The number of accused foreign entrepreneurs is remarkable. There is, for example, Brian, an American aircraft operator. The license which he received ten years ago is today worth gold. There were quarrels with the partners and the authorities. Now he is in prison. Two thirteen year old girls have made allegations against him. They left their police interviews looking remarkably happy as each will get a thousand dollars for their testimonies. APLE will make much more money.
However, more and more resistance and resentment against the abuses of APLE has materialised. The Internet is filled with critical and accusatory blogs. Even well-known NGO’s are now distancing themselves from APLE and the embassies of many countries recognise APLE as a real problem in Cambodia. The Russian ambassador, for instance, is lobbying for the release of a fellow countryman who has fallen into this trap over 18 months ago. The judges drag out the pre-trial detention for years and wait for payment. Depending on the assessment of the assets, the claims can go up to $150,000. Those who cannot pay ‘sit’ in prison for up to 15 years.
The numerous victims of this scam and scandal are now organising together legal action in the International Courts of Justice in The Hague. They collectively accuse the Cambodian judiciary of grave human rights abuses culminating in the systematic extortion of hundreds of foreigners. A criminal complaint in France is the only conceivable action to expose what must be considered nothing short of international organized crime.
Pure human suffering is in actuality being bought and paid for from international donations. The remaining question is, “Do these international donations finance the paedophile impulses of APLE, Cambodia’s leading children’s protector?” For the international donors, it would be a disaster beyond all expectations. They would be well advised to expediently seek a transparent investigation into the actions and suitability of APLE.
This comes at a very inconvenient time for Prime Minister, Hun Sen. He is currently renovating the severely battered image of Cambodia in order to attract investors while working through a multitude of corruption scandals and failures of his government to meet minimum international legal and trade standards.
In 2013, Thierry Darnaudet was expelled as a “persona non grata”. He was, thanks to his connections, spared from criminal investigations and the usual prison sentence of between five to ten years imprisonment. In an interview in February 2015 in the Phnom Penh Post, he states he is concerned about the reputation of what is clearly still his organization. He is now in hiding in India although he has plans to extend his Child Care Program into Haiti, another very impoverished country.
30 June 2015