Monday, 5 May 2008

Australian man jailed for rape dies in Cambodian cell

Australian Bart Lauwaert (C)

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — An Australian man convicted and imprisoned in Camdodia in 2003 for raping underage girls has been found dead in his jail cell in the country's northwest, a court official said Sunday.

Former English teacher Bart Lauwaert, 41, was sentenced to 20 years for raping his nine maids, aged between 12 and 14, in Siem Reap province, the tourist gateway to the kingdom's famous Angkor Wat temple complex.

"He died Saturday night," prosecutor Bou Bun Ham told AFP. "He didn't commit suicide. We just found him dead on the floor."

Bou Bun Ham refused to give any further details on the cause of death, and said Lauwaert's body had been sent to the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh.

A duty officer at the Australian embassy said, however, that Lauwaert died a day earlier.
"Bart Lauwaert suffered a stroke and died on Friday," the officer said. "His body is still in the capital city of Phnom Penh waiting for his family, who currently live in Belgium."

Lauwaert had denied the rape charges, but in June 2006 lost an appeal against his sentence.

The nine girls had recanted their original statements and said they had never been assaulted, but the appeal court upheld the sentence amid accusations that the victims had been pressured to change their stories.

Dozens of foreigners have been jailed for child sex crimes or deported to face trial in their home countries since Cambodia launched an anti-paedophilia push in 2003 in a bid to shake off its reputation as a haven for sex predators.

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