THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Filipina retracts in US Marine rape case; plot alleged

By Paul Watson
Los Angeles Times / March 19, 2009
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MANILA - Women's rights activists accused US and Philippine authorities yesterday of conspiring in a bid to free a US Marine convicted of rape, because his alleged victim has recanted her assault claims and reportedly moved to the United States.

Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was charged with rape in November 2005 after a 22-year-old Filipina accused him of sexually assaulting her in a van after they drank and danced in the Neptune Club at Subic Bay, a former US naval base.

Smith, of St. Louis, was found guilty in December 2006 after the woman wept on the witness stand as she described being sexually assaulted by Smith as three other Marines cheered him on.

But Suzette Nicolas changed her story in an affidavit that she swore before a Manila notary public on March 12. Four days later, the woman's mother informed her lawyer, Evalyn Ursua, that Nicolas had flown to the United States to live there.

"My conscience continues to bother me realizing that I may have in fact been so friendly and intimate with Daniel Smith at the Neptune Club that he was led to believe that I was amenable to having sex or that we simply just got carried away," Nicolas said in her affidavit.

The high-profile rape case has rallied opposition here to the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement, which stipulates when US military or Philippine authorities have jurisdiction over American troops who break the law here.

Many Filipinos say the agreement undermines Philippine sovereignty. Protesters frequently demonstrate against the agreement outside the US Embassy.

Smith is in detention on the embassy compound, where he was moved after the Philippine government agreed to transfer him from a Manila jail days after he was convicted of rape.

The Philippine Supreme Court ruled last month that the Marine should be returned to the custody of Philippine authorities while he awaits an appeal. The embassy says legal experts in Washington are studying the Supreme Court ruling.

But Liza Maza, a member of the Philippine House of Representatives, said the delay, the timing of Nicolas's statement recanting her rape accusations, and her departure for the United States suggest a backroom deal has been worked out to free Smith.

"Our government and the US government have colluded in order to get this recantation [from Nicolas] to get Smith free and also continue with an unequal Visiting Forces Agreement," Maza said.

US Embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Thompson declined to comment on the charge. She also refused to disclose details of the visa granted to Nicolas, who was identified in the local media by the pseudonym "Nicole" until her affidavit was made public Tuesday.

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