KARTIKE, Nepal: When Peter Dalglish, a lauded humanitarian worker, built a sleek cabin near a Nepalese village of rutted roads and hills ribbed with rice paddies, local residents knew virtually nothing about him.
But over several years, the Canadian lawyer endeared himself to many in the community, greeting villagers in Nepali, offering chocolates from Thailand to children playing in the forest and helping people rebuild their homes destroyed by devastating earthquakes in 2015.
The goodwill was shattered last month when police swarmed Dalglish’s home, placed a gun to his head and arrested him on charges of raping at least two boys, 12 and 14.
Suddenly, villagers were on edge, worried about how far the betrayal — and abuse — may have stretched.
“We trusted him,” said Sher Bahadur Tamang, who said he received hundreds of dollars from Dalglish to pay for his child’s education. “He treated us so well. We never knew what was inside his mind.”
Dalglish’s downfall has been a shock partly because his work aiding street children around the world was so widely admired. He was a guest speaker at numerous events in Thailand over many years. In 2016, he was awarded the Order of Canada, the country’s second highest civilian honour.
Nepal is one of Asia’s poorest countries, and thousands of nongovernmental organisations operate there with limited government oversight. The absence of strict regulations means aid groups can be used as a cover for human traffickers and predatory behaviour by humanitarian workers, said Pushkar Karki, head of Nepal’s Chief Investigation Bureau, the agency overseeing the case against Dalglish.
This year, the police arrested Hans Jurgen Gustav Dahm, 63, a German who was running a charity organisation in Kathmandu that provided free lunches to children, many of whom accused him of sexual abuse.
In the past two years, five other foreign men, including Dalglish, 60, have been arrested on suspicion of paedophilia, Karki said.
“There have been some instances where they were found working with charities,” he said, noting that several of the men informally offered money, food and clothing to children. “Our laws aren’t as strict as in foreign countries, and there is no social scrutiny like in developed countries.”
The arrest of such a notable humanitarian has added urgency to a new effort by aid workers around the world, who are saying it is now time to investigate themselves. Late last year, they started a #MeToo-like movement called #AidToo.
In February, Oxfam, one of Britain’s largest charities, fired four workers and accepted the resignations of three others after an investigation found that senior officials for the organisation had hired prostitutes in Haiti, including for sex parties.
That same month, the BBC reported that men delivering aid on behalf of the United Nations and international charities had abused displaced women in Syria, trading food for sexual favors.
“Peter Dalglish’s arrest should be a ‘teachable moment’ for the humanitarian community to understand and recognize how predators exploit the cover of ‘heroism’ to commit crimes,” Lori Handrahan, a veteran humanitarian worker, wrote in an essay published on Medium. “Let’s be clear. Peter Dalglish is not a hero. He never was.”
Dalglish was charged with paedophilia in a district court this month. He faces up to 13 years in prison.
“He sexually abused children after giving them the false hope that they would be taken to a foreign country,” said Jeevan Shrestha, a spokesman for Nepal’s Chief Investigation Bureau.
Over several decades, Dalglish, a lawyer from Ontario, built a reputation as a deeply committed advocate for children in war-torn corners of the globe.
In the 1980s, he was a co-founder of Street Kids International, an organisation that has helped homeless youths around the world find jobs, and which was recently absorbed by Save the Children.
He also partnered with the American professional skateboarder Tony Hawk to empower children through sports, and worked with the United Nations in Liberian shantytowns after the 2014 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.
But in Nepal, where he has lived off-and-on since 2002, some of those who knew him recalled unsettling requests.
In Kathmandu, at a school that provides free education to children from mountain communities, Dalglish was a popular volunteer in the early 2000s until he asked administrators to change a rule barring students from staying overnight with teachers.
Soon after, the relationship between the school’s staff members and Dalglish soured, a senior administrator said, and he was banned from the campus.
In an interview last month with The Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper, Dalglish spoke from behind the bars of a jail cell in Kathmandu, denying the charges against him and pointing out he had never before been the subject of a criminal investigation.
“But obviously, if you do the work that I do, with kids, you leave yourself open to criticism and suspicion,” he said. Dalglish declined further interview requests.
Rahul Chapagain, Dalglish’s lawyer, said evidence collected by the police could belong to visitors who rented the home through Airbnb. “Whatever they found, it does not necessarily belong to Peter,” he said.
Dalglish markets his cabin online as a “Himalayan Hideaway,” equipped with a Bose sound system, German bathroom fixtures and a lush garden. In his profile’s display picture, a beaming Dalglish embraces Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada.
On a recent day, the home was empty and locked, a ruffled comforter on the couch and board games tucked into an armoire visible through the windows. Around Kartike, a sleepy village where farmers wield sickles in watery fields, many expressed horror that a possible predator had been living just up the hill.
At a restaurant in town, the father of one of the boys in the case said he had worked as a labourer on Dalglish’s property for half a decade and had formed a warm bond with his boss. The father, Tamang, identifying himself only by his common last name to protect his family’s privacy, said he let his son, 14, occasionally spend the night at Dalglish’s home.
On the morning of April 7, Tamang was jolted awake by nearly a dozen police officers, who escorted him up a snaking path of slate-coloured tiles to Dalglish’s home, where his son was sleeping.
Inside the house, Dalglish spoke calmly to the police in English, a language Tamang did not understand.
Later, Tamang learned that plainclothes police officers had befriended his son, who told authorities that he, his 12-year-old cousin and at least two other boys had been abused by Dalglish.
In an interview, Tamang’s son said Dalglish had sexually assaulted him over a period of seven years, promising him a better life abroad if he kept quiet.
“I think the police were following Peter for a long time,” Tamang said. “The boys said they were asked to sleep naked and were raped.”
Until the boys stepped forward, villagers said there had been no signs of improper behaviour by Dalglish. He treated those who worked for him well and bought clothing, shoes and pencils for children in the village. It is unclear who initially tipped off the police about Dalglish.
A few days after the arrest, Tamang said he was summoned by the authorities to Dalglish’s home.
The police showed him a small, white box. Inside were dozens of photographs and film negatives of naked children, some of them playing in pools, Tamang said.
Chapagain, the lawyer, said Dalglish told him they were “pictures of poverty-stricken children and nothing sexually exploitative”.
But Tamang was unconvinced, characterising the experience as a nightmarish episode in his family’s ordeal.
“I never imagined Peter would do such a thing,” he said.