False Leads Frustrate Hunt for US Fugitive in Phnom Penh

Immigration officials in Phnom Penh are working undercover and around the clock to locate fugitive U.S. Army sergeant Michael Edward Harris, who fled more than 40 charges of child pornography in the U.S. and was last reported by police to be hiding out in the capital, an official said Sunday.

On October 16, word started to spread online that Mr. Harris was living in Sihanoukville, where he had been working as a dog trainer. But Mr. Harris disappeared before police could track him down.

The whereabouts of the Arizona native—who also stands accused of child sex abuse by his ex-wife, Denise Diaz—remain a mystery, frustrating authorities who previously said they would capture him within days.

“We still believe he is hiding in Phnom Penh, based on several leads and the expert opinion of immigration officers who are operating in plain clothes throughout the city,” said Uk Heisela, the chief of investigation at the Interior Ministry’s immigration department.

Over the past week, Mr. Heisela said, several undercover officers in heavily touristed parts of the city thought they had spotted the suspect, but each sighting turned out to be a case of mistaken identity.

“Some of our forces are spies masquerading as tuk-tuk drivers and on Saturday night, they spotted the American close to Borey Piphup Tmey [gated community] in front of Samrong Andet pagoda. But it turned out it was just someone who looked like him,” he said.

Saturday’s confusion was just the latest in a string of false leads, with sightings of Mr. Harris also reported on the riverside and Street 51, according to Mr. Heisela.

“If he is out in public, he will likely go where he can mingle with a crowd of tourists. But I believe he is in hiding and it will be difficult to find him,” he said. “He cannot rent a place or stay in guesthouses”—because they require identification—“so a foreigner friend may be giving him cover.”

The suspect’s ex-wife, who has promised a $2,000 reward to anyone who delivers Mr. Harris to the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh, said by email Sunday that she was not worried about the failure of police to apprehend him thus far.

“I’m not concerned that he will escape because no matter where he goes I will find him,” Ms. Diaz said. “But his plan of action is to hide and I am happy that he can’t enjoy his freedom out, have friends or live a life [out in the open] this way.”

odom@cambodiadaily.com, henderson@cambodiadaily.com

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