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Italian diplomat held in the Philippines over abuse charge

MANILA -- Philippine police said Monday they have detained a vacationing Italian diplomat and filed complaints of human trafficking and child abuse after he was allegedly found in the company of three underage boys at a resort.

The diplomat was based in Turkmenistan, said police Senior Superintendent Romulo Sapitula. Members of the child rights group Bahay Tuluyan who were on an outing in the same resort in Laguna province south of Manila became suspicious and alerted authorities, he said.

Catherine Scerri of Bahay Tuluyan said she and her colleagues saw the foreigner at the resort with three young children aged 9 to 12 clearly not related to him.

The Italian Embassy in Manila was aware that Philippine police had taken the man into custody, said an embassy staffer, who refused to give her name. The embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Italian Foreign Ministry in Rome did not immediately comment either.

According to a police press statement, Italian Ambassador Massimo Roscigno visited the police station in Binan, Laguna, to ensure that legal assistance was provided to the diplomat.

The complaints were filed before a prosecutor, who will determine if there is enough evidence for formal charges to be brought against the diplomat.

Sapitula, the provincial police chief, said their investigation showed that the diplomat took the children to his accommodation in Manila and then to the resort.

According to the police statement, the diplomat told investigators during questioning that the boys “were street children that I had brought from Manila” and that they had informed their parents about the trip.

The statement said that the boys told police that the diplomat brought them to his house where he “personally bathed and scrubbed their naked bodies and afterwards gave them money and food.”

The Philippine anti-trafficking law sets a penalty of life imprisonment and a fine of at least 2 million pesos (US$44,500) if the victim is a child. Child abuse carries a prison term of up to 40 years.

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