By RORY CALLINAN
AN Australian foreign aid worker under police investigation in Papua New Guinea for allegedly fondling and photographing naked young girls has found refuge in north Queensland, beyond the reach of the law in either country, The Australian newspaper reported on Tuesday.
Former Victorian teacher Russell Owen Lorback, who was employed through an AusAID-funded programme to share knowledge with people in third world countries, has never been interviewed over the allegations because he left the country days after PNG police found a computer disc in his home allegedly containing pornographic images.
Police said photos depicted girls, some nude, allegedly being fondled by the mathematics and computer teacher while working in association with Australia’s volunteers international in New Ireland and East New Britain provinces from the mid-1990s to 2004.
Lorback had denied making pornography or fondling the girls, but said he had taken photos of his girlfriends, whom he believed to be 17 or 18.
The PNG investigation stalled after allegations were made about local police copying the images and circulating them around the country.
Australian federal police said they could not investigate the case while PNG authorities are making inquiries.
PNG police had confirmed they had taken statements from 12 women, who allegedly photographed by Mr Lorback.
An AusAID spokeswoman confirmed Mr Lorback had worked for the Volunteers International programme, managed by AusAID, and said the organisation was unaware of the allegations until contacted by The Australian.
She said they would cooperate with all relevant authorities in the investigation and resolution of the matter.
The case highlighted the difficulties faced by authorities in dealing with allegations of child abuse and child sex tourism in the region generally.
Four of Lorback’s alleged victims, tracked down in remote areas of PNG, have queried why no charges had been laid and told how the situation had damaged their lives.
The women, who could not be named for legal reasons, queried what Australian authorities were doing about the situation given the status of the PNG investigation.
Mr Lorback said he had never been interviewed about the situation.
He said he did not have any involvement with underage girls.
He blamed former girlfriends for the investigation.
“One was a bit jealous and she got hold of the police and told the police and that was about it,” he said.
“I had a couple of girlfriends but they certainly weren’t young.
“They might have been 17 or 18.
I actually don’t know what the legal age is in Papua New Guinea.”
Lorback denied making pornography but confirmed he had downloaded some.
He said he had taken photos of his girlfriends.
“Everybody does it,” he said.
He said he had an impeccable teaching record and denied that any of the girls were from his school but acknowledged he did know one of his accusers.
“They certainly weren’t all school kids,” he said.
“Maybe one ‘F’ but she would have been in Grade 12 at the time.
“It wasn’t a relationship. There was no sex involved and no exposing at all.
Underage stuff, you would have to be crazy.”
Under section 229 of the Papua New Guinea Crimes Act of 1974, a person who uses someone under the age of 18 to make pornography can face up to 15 years jail.
Lorback said he left PNG because he feared he would not get a fair hearing if he was charged.
“I talked to quite a few people who had been there a long time and who had a bit of experience with the justice system and they just said disappear because they knew pretty much what happens with the justice system,” he said.
Three of the alleged victims tracked down by The Australian were adamant and were under 16 when Lorback photographed them and some were his students.
One of the three in the pictures alleged Lorback had exposed himself to her when she was 15 and tried to touch her when she knew him at Namatanai, in 1995.
PNG authorities said the offences were serious and statements had been taken from other women or girls. – ww.theaustralian.com.au