US court denies bail to church leader accused of rape

Los Angeles, Jul 17 (IANS): The leader of the so-called "Luz del Mundo" ("Light of the World") church will remain imprisoned in a US jail without bail until he faces trial on charges of child pornography, child rape and human trafficking, a state judge has ruled.

Superior Court Judge David Fields on Tuesday said that Naason Joaquin Garcia, 50, who was arrested last month, represented a danger to the community and could flee the country if he were granted bail, which had been set at $50 million, believed to be the highest amount ever.

During the hearing, which lasted for two days, police officers told the court that the defendant had already managed to raise 10 per cent of the bail amount, a percentage that usually is enough to get a suspect out of prison.

The office of state prosecutor Xavier Becerra confirmed to Efe news that it had slapped on three more charges of child pornography - involving minors of both sexes - to Garcia's indictment, as well as indicting his alleged co-conspirators Alondra Ocampo, Susana Medina Oaxaca and Azalea Rangel Melendez.

Among the evidence presented were testimonies and video found on Garcia's cell phone and other electronic devices.

Garcia's defense, which had already announced its intention to appeal, lamented the magistrate's decision not to consider house arrest as an alternative.

"We respect the judge's decision but we're going to appeal this decision because it seems unfair to us, and we continue insisting that this is a fabricated case," Silem Garcia (no relation to the suspect), a spokesperson for the Mexico-headquartered church, told Efe news.

The judge reiterated on Tuesday the $25 million bail for Ocampo, a 36-year-old, while Susana Medina Oaxaca, a 24-year-old, was released after paying a bail of $150,000.

Both women, besides Garcia and Rangel Melendez, were arrested at the beginning of June after the public prosecutor's office received several tip-offs from a website dedicated to revealing sexual abuse in religious organizations.

The defendants will have to reappear in court on August 2.

The Luz del Mundo church organized a gathering of 500,000 believers in Guadalajara, Mexico, last year. It is estimated it could have between one and five million devotees worldwide.


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