Even by his own admission, it is an extraordinary change in fortunes for Adam Whittington.
Eight months ago, the so-called “child recovery agent” was languishing in a stark Lebanese jail facing kidnapping charges after a failed attempt to snatch two children from the streets of Beirut and return them to their mother.
Now, the former Australian soldier is free and has turned up in Cambodia, where on Thursday, he was sitting in a smart bar and restaurant in Phnom Penh talking about his latest venture, which will see him shift his focus from rescuing kidnapped children to hunting down pedophiles with the launch of Project Rescue Children (PRC).
“PRC are not rogue operators and [are] determined to not only recover children, but to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice,” Mr. Whittington said.
A controversial figure, Mr. Whittington made international headlines in April last year when he was arrested along with Australian Sally Faulkner—a mother had paid his Child Abduction Recovery International (CARI) organization to help retrieve her two children, and a television crew from the Australian Nine Network, who were making a documentary on the case.
Ms. Faulkner claimed her children had been taken to Beirut by their father without her consent.
After Mr. Whittington snatched the children from the street, they were taken to a safe house with their mother while he arranged for them to be taken out of the country by boat. However, Lebanese police had been tipped off about the operation and all were arrested.
The TV crew, who were filming for the popular “60 Minutes” program, were released with Ms. Faulkner after the network forked out a huge payment to her estranged husband to drop the charges.
Mr. Whittington, on the other hand, was left—in his own words—“to rot” in prison for more than three months.
“I was in jail for 104 days. It was horrendous,” Mr. Whittington said.
“That whole case was about money, especially when Channel Nine were involved. As soon as they pulled out their checkbook, they paid the father half a million dollars and they walked out 14 days later.”
Mr. Whittington believes a rival investigator informed Lebanese police about the sting. He also accused the TV network of lying by claiming they had not paid him in an attempt to distance themselves from the case.
Mr. Whittington was eventually released on bail in July and quickly fled the country.
PRC, which on its Facebook page states “We Hunt Those Who Hunt Children,” officially launches today, although it has already been conducting surveillance work on suspected pedophiles and children at risk.
“We want Western pedophiles to get the message that it is not OK to partake in these ‘sex holidays,’” he said.
PRC, which is funded by private parties, but is hoping to secure funding from the Australian government, will be the latest foreign-backed NGO working with authorities to investigate child sex abuse in Cambodia.
Mr. Whittington said in an email that his NGO had been registered with the Interior Ministry since the start of last month. In a Facebook post this week, he wrote, “PRC is now a formally established NGO in Cambodia, working closely with Cambodian Government, Police and Military officials.”
The organization, which currently has six people on its Cambodia team, will be working in a “similar way” to anti-pedophile NGO Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE)—carrying out surveillance operations on the back of tip-offs, he said.
“We want it to be overt, signs up everywhere, there’s a contact for people to call. The guys have gone around most of the provinces to hand out cards and things like this to the village chiefs so they know, because a lot of it is in the provinces,” he said.
Mr. Whittington produced a photograph on his telephone of a child who he said his team suspected was being abused.
“For example, this girl, she’s 11. This is one of the jobs that has been passed on to the CPU, it’s a very good case,” he said, in reference to the the Child Protection Unit (CPU), a policing charity that investigates child abuse cases.
“We do much as we can and just pass it on.”
James McCabe, director of the CPU, said he was not aware of PRC or how they would be operating, but said the end goal of foreign-backed child protection NGOs should be improving the capacity of police.
“It’s imperative that the Cambodian National Police are conducting and doing what police should be doing, which in our case, they are,” he said.
Mr. Whittington said his group’s prime objective would be passing information on to authorities.
“We’re the ones on the ground doing the dirty work and making sure it’s followed up, and hopefully see them prosecuted,” he said.
wright@cambodiadaily.com
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