Lawyer Joel Coronel Aispuro found guilty of being ‘entrapped’ in Manila human trafficking sting operation
A Filipino lawyer charged with being an “important participant” in human trafficking was on Friday charged in US court with coercing a woman into the sex trade, including across the US border.
Mr Joel Coronel Aispuro, a close associate of President Rodrigo Duterte, was arrested by US federal agents in June when they entered Manila on a tip-off that the 56-year-old was a human trafficker. He was extradited to the US in August.
“Joel Coronel Aispuro was a key participant in trafficking victims … from to the Philippines to the United States, where he raped some of the young women repeatedly,” Beverly Diamond, assistant US attorney, told a federal court in Brooklyn, New York.
Diamond said the charges stemmed from a sting operation in which Aispuro recruited two girls in Manila – one aged about 14 and another at 18 – to help him lure 20 others from Asia to the US.
Although she fled, Diamond said the older of the two had told police she had been sold to him.
Mr Joel Coronel Aispuro at home in the Philippines in November. Photograph: Alan Diaz/AP
Diamond said the two women helped set up meetings with potential recruits for him to meet at a hostel, and were photographed at those meetings. In all, the two women estimated they were supplied with condoms that they gave to Aispuro after each of the meetings.
The prostitution ring ran from June 2014 to June 2015 in the Philippines and resulted in more than 20 victims, including some who worked in the US, US authorities said.
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However, Diamond said there was no evidence Aispuro, a lawyer and former member of the Philippines parliament, had direct control over the victims’ lives.
Aispuro, said a message on his trial website on Thursday that he was innocent and would fight the accusations.
Diamond told the court the sting operation, when Aispuro was arrested, resulted in “deeply disturbing evidence” that the women had been coerced, abused and threatened. She said “many” of the women were left with damaging psychological scars.
“Violence against trafficked children is not only cruel, it is a crime against humanity,” Diamond said.
She told the court Aispuro would be granted bail.
The US attorney’s office has charged him with conspiring to commit sex trafficking in the Philippines, conspiring to commit sex trafficking and shipping goods for sex trafficking, allegedly using a fake name in a Philippines passport and directing his acquaintances to hire someone else to sign for the items.
“We are investigating a massive human trafficking operation that used trust and lies to lure vulnerable Asian women to the Philippines where they were used as sex slaves in an operation that has victimized and continues to torment them,” Rand Paul, the US senator for Kentucky, said in a statement.
Last June, the US embassy in Manila issued a warning to US citizens to be cautious in shopping areas and businesses in Manila after a 26-year-old German who worked as a nanny in the Philippines was found dead in a hotel room on the outskirts of the capital.