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Thai child sex charges are payback, says accused Australian


September 3, 2005

Christopher Ronald White is behind bars in Chiang Mai Central Prison, accused of serious child sex offences. To hear him talk, the former West Australian policeman, 46, tried to help a poor girl and her family but he was set up, and his actions misconstrued. Behind the brave face is a bitter man.

Just kilometres away, Pan, 16, lies in a public hospital ward. She wears a resigned half smile as she talks about her daughter, who died at birth this week.

For more than three years, from age 13, Pan lived in White's Bangkok house, attended a local temple school - and, by her account, had sexual relations with him, a charge he denies.

In an Akha hilltribe village in Burma, overlooking the far northern Thai town of Mae Sai, Pan's father, Aboya, is a happy man. Two of his daughters have foreign boyfriends, elevating his dirt poor life to one with a cement floor and colour TV.

Sitting on low stools in the tiny cement yard, he serves tea in chipped cups without handles, with green bananas and hot peanuts. "I think my daughters have a better life living with the farang," he said through a translator, showing pictures of the girls in swimming pools, at the beach and in well-appointed apartments. "And I like it materially, because I can ask my daughters for things."

Aboya said the older girl's boyfriend gave him 3000 baht ($96) a month, and had paid for his cement house, but White had given little, saying it was enough he was caring for his daughter.

White's story first emerged 10 days ago, when he was paraded for the cameras in Chiang Mai. The accompanying Thai-language news reports accused him of everything from holding a 13-year-old girl as a sex slave for three years to forcing her to perform sexual acts with him in pornographic videos for export to Australia to luring other young girls from Chiang Mai to Bangkok for similar purposes. The reports said 35 pornographic VCDs were confiscated in a raid on his Bangkok home. In fact only two had pornographic content.

The claims were picked up by news agencies and widely reported in Australia.

"My face is all over the West Australian newspapers. They didn't do an investigation; they just arrested me. My career has been destroyed," White told the Herald this week.

He has been charged with having sex with a girl under 15, which counts as rape under Thai law, and sexual harassment and abuse.

"I treated her exactly the same way I treated my own daughter," he said. "I tried to help her poor family; I tried to help her better herself." Asked if he had had sex with her, he said: "No, it would be like having sex with my own daughter."

Pan has a different story. "I met him at the night bazaar in Chiang Mai. I was selling flowers and Ami [another flower seller] introduced him. He asked me if I wanted to come to Bangkok. I am Akha so I have no identity papers. He bought some for me and two weeks later I moved to Bangkok," she said in a mix of broken English and Thai.

At first, she said, he treated her well. He sent her to a local school, once a year he took her to see her father (her mother is dead), and even sent her on a holiday to Phuket. Did they have a sexual relationship? "Yes, since the first time I went to Bangkok," she said.

"I went to Phuket for a holiday, and Christopher told me not to get a boyfriend. I have a boyfriend, and he was angry to me. Then he was choking, beating me, rape. He throw something at me like a vase."

She became pregnant, and the paternity of the baby that died this week is still unclear. DNA tests are being conducted. White said she had stopped living with him by last September.

In the first half of this year she spoke with a social worker in Mae Sai and the investigation into her story began. Police say that a Thai housekeeper who lived at the house has supported Pan's claim.

White's biological daughter, who also lived with them in Bangkok for part of that time, has reportedly dismissed it as lies.

White says Pan is just an excuse and that it is his career that has put him behind bars.

The former policeman has worked as a private investigator and security expert in the region for the past 15 years.

Last year he was hired by Burswood Casino to serve a writ, listed in the West Australian Supreme Court, on Thongthip Aektrakul, a Thai woman with strong political connections in Chiang Mai, who led a high-rolling gambling tour to Perth in February 2001, then failed to pay the bill.

He finally found Ms Thongthip and presented the writ in August last year, in Poipet, a gambling centre on the Cambodian side of the Thai border.

"She said to me, 'Don't come back to Poipet or you will not leave walking'," he said.

The casino bad debts story was published in Thailand on August 22. A day later Chiang Mai police raided White's Bangkok house and arrested him. "[Thongthip's] family certainly have connections here in Chiang Mai," he said.

However, White's claims of a payback arrest are dismissed by Chiang Mai's police investigator on child sexual abuse, Jareewan Puttanuruk.

"The investigation started on June 28, after the case was reported to us by International Justice Mission. The arrest warrant was issued on August 15," she said. "I have no information about him and the casino; I didn't know he was involved in that case."

White has another problem. Last month and in June Australian customs intercepted two packages, with DVDs containing child pornography, sent by a "Ryan White" to an associate in Australia. He admits sending them, saying he was tired of trying to get police agencies in Thailand to deal with the child pornography problem, and hoped to "obtain an awareness of what was happening here".

"I did it to make a difference."

The courts, first in Thailand, and possibly later in Australia, will decide what difference White has made.