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US announces sex trafficking charges vs. Apollo Quiboloy

US prosecutors on Thursday announced sex-trafficking charges alleging that girls and young women were coerced to have sex with the founder of a Philippines-based church who is a friend and adviser to Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte.

A 74-page indictment charges Apollo Carreon Quiboloy, founder of a church called Kingdom of Jesus Christ, The Name Above Every Name (KOJC) and other church officials, including two US-based church administrators, with running a sex-trafficking operation that threatened victims as young as 12 with "eternal damnation" and physical abuse.

Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles said the new indictment expanded on allegations made last year against three church administrators based in the city. It charges nine defendants with participating in a scheme in which church members were brought to the United States using fraudulently obtained visas and forced to solicit donations to a bogus children's charity.

Prosecutors said the donations were used to pay for "lavish lifestyles" of the church leaders.

'Closely monitoring'

In a statement issued on Thursday, the Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles said it was "closely monitoring" the case. 

"The Consulate General is aware of the federal grand jury indictments that were unsealed today and the ongoing investigation by U.S. law enforcement agencies, including the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation)," it said. 

"The Consulate General fully respects the laws of the state of California and the United States of America and will seek avenues to extend consular assistance to both the accused and the victims as appropriate." 

The latest indictment adds Quiboloy and five other new defendants to an existing indictment filed in 2020. Prosecutors said US authorities arrested three of the new defendants on Thursday, but three others, including Quiboloy, were believed to be in the Philippines.

Lawyers for the new defendants could not immediately be identified and the Philippines embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The indictment alleges that Quiboloy and two other defendants recruited females aged 12 to 25 as personal assistants, or "pastorals." It said they were required to prepare Quiboloy’s meals, clean his residences, give him massages and have sex with him during what they called "night duty."

Quiboloy, a self-proclaimed "Owner of the Universe" and "Appointed Son of God," is a longtime friend and spiritual adviser of Duterte. The influential evangelist is followed by millions of Filipinos.

In January 2020, Quiboloy's lawyer, Israelito Torreon, said the religious leader is innocent of the trafficking allegations following a raid on the group's office in the US.

In the Philippines, complaints for rape, child abuse and human trafficking had been filed against Quiboloy and five other church members, but it was dropped by the Davao City Prosecutor's Office in 2020, citing lack of evidence.

In September, Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao, a candidate for next year's presidential election who has frequently clashed with Duterte, sued Quiboloy for libel after he accused the multiple world champion of embezzling funds intended for a sports complex.

Church leaders are highly influential in Philippine elections. — Reuters with GMA News Online