The fugitive U.S. Army sergeant arrested Tuesday by police in Kratie province following a two-week manhunt will be deported to the U.S. on Friday to face allegations of child rape and 44 counts of possession of child pornography, police said Wednesday.
Michael Harris, 34, was caught by provincial police and immigration officials on Tuesday morning after leaving a guesthouse in Kratie City where he had been hiding for the previous four days, before being transferred later that day to the immigration department in Phnom Penh.
“Now, the U.S. Embassy has confiscated his passport and will issue a letter requesting extradition, which will be followed by a letter signed by His Excellency Sar Kheng, the interior minister, approving his deportation by Friday,” said Uk Heisela, chief of investigations at the Interior Ministry’s immigration department.
The staff sergeant from Arizona is on the U.S. Army’s 20 Most Wanted list and faces charges of committing indecent acts upon a child and forced sodomy, as well as 44 counts of possessing child pornography in Orlando, Florida.
The U.S. Embassy declined to comment on whether the suspect would be returned to police custody in Orlando, where he skipped bail before fleeing to Cambodia on January 17, or sent to face a military desertion charge.
“I have heard news of Staff Sgt. Harris’ arrest, however until he is returned to the control of the U.S. Army, I won’t be able to say anything officially,” Wayne Hall, a U.S. Army media relations officer, said in an email.
Cambodian officials Wednesday revealed new details about the fugitive’s movements leading up to his arrest, which came two weeks after his ex-wife, Denise Diaz, tracked him down via social media to an address in Sihanoukville, where he had been working as a dog trainer under the alias “Michael Dobbs” since June.
According to Mr. Heisela, Mr. Harris told police that he fled Sihanoukville after learning that his cover had been blown and drove his motorcycle to Kampot, staying in the riverside town briefly before continuing to Phnom Penh, where he stayed in Sunday Guesthouse on 141 street in Prampi Makara district.
“Police were looking for him in Phnom Penh, so last Sunday, he went to Kratie province and stayed on one of the islands for a few nights and then in the guesthouse,” he said, referring to the Silver Dolphin Guesthouse and Hotel in Kratie City.
Mr. Heisela said the suspect was not planning to cross the border into Vietnam and had been attempting to return to Phnom Penh to hide out with friends when police picked him up.
“He said he knew that his name and photograph had been distributed to border checkpoints and he would be easily spotted as he was a Westerner,” he said.
Kratie immigration police chief Prum Sophat said police checked guesthouses in the area after receiving pictures of the American and his Honda motorcycle and knew he was at the Silver Dolphin four or five days prior to arresting him.
“The suspect stayed at Silver Dolphin for four or five days, but we didn’t want to arrest him inside the guesthouse because we didn’t want to put pressure on him that might have caused him to commit suicide,” Mr. Sophat said.
“We followed him when he left on Tuesday morning, but he drove at full speed until we blocked him when he reached the Chhlong district office,” he said. “But we agreed not to come too near him as we didn’t want…to get injured, as he is a former U.S military officer.”
Mr. Sophat said it took 30 minutes of negotiating from a distance to convince Mr. Harris to turn himself in.
When the American evaded police in Sihanoukville two weeks ago, his ex-wife offered a $2,000 reward to anyone who delivered Mr. Harris to the U.S. Embassy. Contacted Wednesday, she said she was trying to determine who was responsible for his capture to ensure that everyone who assisted received a share of the money.