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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Los Angeles trial under way for accused child sex tourist

LOS ANGELES—A retired Marine captain had sex with seven preteen girls while living in Cambodia, a prosecutor contended Friday.
Michael Joseph Pepe, 54, paid a prostitute to find girls between 9 and 15 and gave their impoverished families money to let the youngsters live with him near a Phnom Penh elementary school, Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Donahue told Superior Court jurors in her opening statement.

Pepe, who was extradited to Los Angeles last year, has pleaded not guilty to seven counts of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places, a federal law aimed at people who go overseas to engage in so-called child sex tourism.

He was being held without bail and faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

Pepe is accused of having sex with seven girls between the late fall of 2005 and his June 2006 arrest. He paid several hundred dollars to one family for access to their daughter, Donahue contended.

He supplied the girls with food and clothing and even covered some of their school tuitions but "there was a price for all of this," Donahue told jurors. "That price was sex."

Pepe drugged some before having sex with them, the prosecutor alleged.

One 11-year-old told Cambodian authorities that she woke up in a pool of blood, Donahue said.

Medical examinations found the girls had injuries that could have been caused by forced intercourse, she contended.

Rope, Viagra, children's clothing and child pornography were found in a search of his home, Donahue said.
The girls will testify at the trial and "you will hear their pain," the prosecutor told jurors.

In his opening argument, Deputy Federal Public Defender Carl Gunn suggested the assaults were committed by a prostitute and her boyfriend who had access to Pepe's house.

Perhaps the girls were abused "but they weren't abused by Mr. Pepe," Gunn said.

Parents and a teacher made frequent visits to Pepe's home and did not notice anything unusual, Gunn said.

The girls "even acted affectionately towards Mr. Pepe," Gunn said.





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Cambodia carrier ends Taipei flights over its financial crisis

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Cambodia-based Angkor Airways will suspend its flights between Taipei and the Southeast Asian country today, as it has run into financial difficulties after the detention of a top company executive on criminal charges in Taiwan, the airline's branch office in Taiwan announced yesterday.

Alex Lou, executive director of the Taiwan branch office, has been solely in charge of sourcing funding for operations, and his detention has plunged the company into financial woes, the office said.

The announcement came in the afternoon, while its flights to Siem Reap, the location of the famous Cambodian historic site of Angkor Wat, had still taken off as scheduled in the morning.

A total of 449 passengers from Taiwan were originally scheduled to take three Angkor charter flights back home in the next four days, the company said. But the office said it has already asked the passengers' travel agencies to rearrange their clients to fly home from Phnom Penh via China Airlines or EVA Airways.

Lou has been detained following questioning by prosecutors in Taipei on May 1 as part of their investigation into an embezzlement scandal hitting the debt-ridden Fast Eastern Air Transport.

The branch office said the headquarters in Cambodia respects the due process in Taiwan.

The travelers were originally scheduled to fly back to Taiwan from Siem Reap on May 10, 12 and 13.

Although it does not have a representative office in Cambodia, Taiwan's foreign ministry has appealed to Cambodia-based Taiwanese businesspeople to help the stranded tourists get rooms at local hotels, ministry spokeswoman Phoebe Yeh said late last night.

Taiwan's government will arrange for Taiwanese airlines to pick up the tourists from both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap over the next four days, with FAT sending a plane on May 13, Yeh said.

For more assistance, Taiwanese citizens can call Taiwan's representative office in Ho Chi Minh City at 002-84-903927019, the spokeswoman said.

Angkor Airways, a regional airline with three routes between Siem Reap and Japanese cities in addition to its Taipei route, operated 20-23 chartered flights between Taipei and Siem Reap every month.

Although the statement said all flights would be suspended temporarily, there was no mention of if or when the charters would resume.

According to the airline's website, its charter flight routes include ones from Taipei, Nagoya, Osaka, and Fukuoka to Siem Reap.

But its current flight schedule has only flights between Taipei and the Cambodian destination.

Debt-ridden FAT, Taiwan's oldest private carrier that has been hit hard by a deteriorating domestic aviation market, filed for bankruptcy protection with the Taipei District Court on Feb. 17 and has been struggling to meet its operating obligations since.

Taipei prosecutors suspect that top-ranking managers at FAT pocketed company funds and purposely let Angkor Airways delay paying FAT the NT$700 million owed for leasing aircraft from the Taiwanese carrier.

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