Australian missionary Martin Chan says he is worried he will be held indefinitely behind bars in Cambodia after judges in a Phnom Penh appeals court adjourned a third bail hearing in his case, which centres on the construction of a school and allegations of fraud.
“I have no intention of leaving this country,” he said on Tuesday when asked by a bench of three judges if he was a flight risk.
“My nationality is Australian and my passport is Australian.”
Chan was stoic but looked tired as he arrived at the Ministry of Justice, handcuffed but dressed in civilian clothes.
However, the 49-year-old said he feared being left to languish in the Kandal Provincial Prison, where he has spent the past three months sharing a cramped cell with 90 other inmates.
“I’m worried that I will continue to be detained until the director comes back from Korea,” he said referring to Jung Young-Kim, who set up His International Services, a Christian charity that then contracted PHV Construction to build a bilingual school for 1000 students.
The court heard how the dispute, which erupted after the project was dropped in 2016, had already been settled through the National Commercial Arbitration Centre, where Chan was also cleared of any wrongdoing.
But a copy of the court statement by PHV alleged fraudulent actions of Chan and Young-Kim, had “heavily damaged” the company and no reason had been given for the termination of the contract.
Young-Kim then left for Korea while Chan, a volunteer, remained and was later arrested.
“I have lost my freedom as an Australian citizen,” he told the court room filled with family, friends and staffers from the Australian embassy.
“I am worried that this will be prolonged until I don’t know when.”
Chan has won enormous sympathy among Cambodians and is a hot topic on social media, while an international petition demanding his release has garnered more than 13,000 signatures.
The case was adjourned until Friday, when the court will announce its decision on the bail application.
Chan’s wife, Deborah Kim, said she remained worried.
“The judge didn’t consider the arbitration result at all. He only talked about the plaintiff’s accusations of fraud,” the Sydney-trained optometrist told AAP outside the court.
Kim and Chan have lived in Cambodia for seven years as volunteers for His International Services, where Chan was overseeing construction of the school until it folded.
“We just want a fair hearing. They’ve married a civil matter with a criminal case,” Kim said.
© AAP 2020