Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Fil-Am arrested for illegally recruiting Filipino security men for Iraq

MANILA (AP) - Philippine government agents have arrested a Filipino-American man on suspicion of illegally recruiting ex-soldiers to serve as security personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, officials said Tuesday.

Mark Rae Villacruzes was arrested last week in Mandaluyong city in suburban Manila after eight former soldiers he recruited for Iraq filed a complaint against him for allegedly withholding part of their compensation, the National Bureau of Investigation said.

NBI Special Action Unit chief Vicente de Guzman III said an investigation showed Villacruzes recruited the men in March 2004 to serve as security personnel at U.S. installations in Iraq with a monthly salary of US$1,000.

But Villacruzes, who claimed to represent a U.S.-based company, failed to pay the men an agreed $9,000 each war compensation for their six-month stints, de Guzman said.

When the men returned to the Philippines, they sought out Villacruzes, but he was overseas. The men then filed a complaint at the government-run Philippine Overseas and Employment Administration, which found Villacruzes to be an unlicensed recruiter and referred the case to the NBI.

Villacruzes was arrested last Friday, along with another man, after two of the former soldiers tipped off authorities about his whereabouts. He was charged with illegal recruitment. The penalty varies from two years to life in prison.

According to de Guzman, Villacruzes is believed to have sent at least 100 Filipino men to Iraq in March 2004 alone _ before the Philippine government imposed a ban on sending workers to the country _ and was believed to have continued recruiting until he was arrested last week.

The recruits, all with "combat experience" either from the military or police, were provided with high-powered firearms to secure U.S. installations or to serve as convoy security, he said. It wasn't immediately clear if the installations were military bases or private companies.

The government's employment agency for overseas workers has posted an announcement on its Web site that it "does not process documents of Filipinos hired as 'civilian fighting force' for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan."

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